Africa's last standing warrior tribe begin assault to recover 'stolen trademark' from international companies

Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative Trust has hired lawyers to persuade multinational companies to recognise the Maasai trademark — and pay for it.

According to a report by Financial Times the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative Trust is educating their community about the value of their brand and has hired lawyers to persuade multinational companies to recognise the Maasai trademark — and pay for it.

“I thought, ‘this is an offence’,”

“He did not ask permission, so I broke his camera. I think it was an expensive one.” Isaac ole Tialolo recalls the first time he came under the glare and flashes of a camera from a tourist.

Ole Tialolo who is the chairman of the Kenyan branch of the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative Trust, has already initiated the first step in ensuring the more than two million pastoralist community straddling the Kenya-Tanzania border get their dues.

The Maasai's red-checked togas, fine beadwork and proud warrior history, are an attractive icon for firms wishing to establish particular brand values.

However, due to weak intellectual property rights, Kenyan brands have been copied, stolen and even owned without the origin’s country’s knowledge.

International fashion brands ranging from Louis Vuitton to Car manufactures like Land rover have all borrowed  from the rich Maasai culture  and incorporated them into their products designs without as much as crediting the community leave alone pay a dime.

Most recently, the mastermind behind the costumes for Marvel's upcoming blockbuster ‘Black Panther’ revealed she was inspired by Maasai culture.

To press their case, the Maasai are now working with Position Business, a spin-off from Light Years IP, whose founder, Ron Layton, helped Ethiopian coffee growers build trademark protection around their premium coffee.

Light Years IP, a Washington-based advocacy group, estimates that more than 1,000 companies, including Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Jaguar Land Rover and Masai Barefoot Technology, a shoe company, have used Maasai imagery or iconography to project their brand.

“If someone were using Taylor Swift’s image, she would ask for at least 5 per cent and she would get it,” Mr Layton says, referring to the American singer-songwriter.

Mr. Lauren says royalties that could be claimed by the Maasai are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

He adds that they could eventually use their brand to strike deals across a range of products from fashion to vehicles, in which a typical licensing fee would be 5 per cent of the retail value.

If a croup can be protected from intellectual theft surely it is not crazy to demand a group of people who have hold dear and jealously protected their culture in the face of constant erosion be protected too.

“A human being can stop others from using their image. With the Maasai this is an asset that belongs to 2m people,” he argues.

The Maasai recently struck their first deal with Koy Clothing, a UK retail company, which has agreed to pay a licence fee for clothes based on Maasai designs.

“We are an early adopter of the licensing arrangement, and in time we hope that more and more companies will follow suit.” said Jimmy Scott, marketing director at Koy.

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