jordan-sanchez-71hQxE-Sfvg-unsplashTrademarks are a vital part of any business, and on most occasions, people don't or wouldn't begrudge a trademark filing from a company, save when it crosses a somewhat ill-defined line. Ohio State University trying to trademark "The" generated a certain amount of opprobrium, and people were upset that LeBron James attempted to trademark Taco Tuesday, and delighted when he was denied in his attempt. Those represent one strain of filings that offend our sensibilities in their ambition to capitalize on our common language, trying to turn a public good into private profit.

There's another subset that is more problematic, and that is when culture is appropriated for business purposes, particularly when it isn't that of the offending party. Notable recently is Kim Kardashian's aborted effort to trademark "Kimono", wisely reconsidered after considerable and justified blowback from both the Japanese government and horrified observers online. In line with that particular category is a new case involving Air New Zealand and the country's indigenous population.

The Maori community of New Zealand is angry with the airline over its attempt to trademark a logo that includes the Maori phrase "kia ora". The saying, which means "good health" or "be well", is, as Huffington Post notes, a common greeting in New Zealand as well as the name of Air New Zealand's in-flight magazine. In attempting to trademark the logo, Air New Zealand has drawn the ire of the Maori Council, a representative body of the community, who are understandably upset about what they see as an attempt to exploit and co-opt their language and culture. HuffPo cites one member, Matthew Tukaki, who threatens a Maori boycott of the airline if the company doesn't drop its pursuit of the trademark.

For its part, Air New Zealand claims that they only wish to trademark the logo, and has no interest in claiming rights over the "kia ora" phrase itself. Still, the company had to know that the filing would draw no small amount of ire, given the nature and origin of the phrase and the historical freight that such a move carries. In our own country, both Cleveland's baseball team and Washington's football team have faced pressure and pushback not only in trademark cases but in their continued use of logos and names that make use of ugly caricatures or nomenclature of our own native population. They're cases that awaken ghosts of the past, proxy wars in ongoing fights to reckon with original sins, and they are areas that businesses would show wisdom and compassion to not touch.

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