Who Owns Our Place Names and Cultural Icons?

When Mang Donald put up a restaurant and named it “Mang Donald’s”, he got sued by Mac Donald’s for trademark violation.

When a coffee company uses the name of our towns and provinces for its coffee products, shouldn’t we also be suing it for taking advantage of our place names? Surely it is not an accident that they are using our place names isn’t it? They are doing it because the names of our towns and provinces (in the pictures above from left: Ifugao Brew, Kalinga Brew, Sagada Brew, Benguet Brew) sound exotic and, in the coffee business, exotic sells. There is also some goodwill attached to our place names (in the same manner that there is some goodwill attached to the MacDonald’s brand) that the company wants to take advantage of.

The fact that the company sources some of its coffee from the Cordilleras does not give it the license to use our place names. Neither should it be using our cultural icons such as our bululs, and our wisings, and our indigenous weave.

Unfortunately, even if we endlessly rant about this, there really is no law that would protect us from the commercial exploitation of Cordillera names and icons. So unlike Mac Donalds who can sue Mang Donald’s, we cannot sue this company.

Ideally, there should be a Cordillera licensing office that should be on top of this matter; some sort of an office where companies can pay license fees to if they want to use Cordillera names, icons, and images.

These are one of the things that our Cordillera congressional representatives should be looking into. After all, their primary role as Chyt pointed out in the comments here, is to craft laws [that would hopefully protect our interests as a people].

Who among our Representatives would be up to the challenge? Mt. Province Congressman Victor Dominguez and Benguet Congressman Samuel Dangwa are too jurassic. Baguio Congressman Mauricio Domogan can and should have done it but maybe he is too busy acting as GMA’s gofer whenever she visits Baguio and the Cordilleras. Incoming Kalinga Congressman Manuel Agyao is new so let’s give him a pass. We still don’t know Abra’s Representative-elect so we can’t put the challenge before him/her yet.

So we will be counting on Ifugao Congressman Solomon Chungalao and hopefully Apayao Congressman Elias Bulut Jr. to hopefully do something about this matter.

UPDATE: Here are some interesting readings relevant to this topic: Hawaiian Trademark Study; article on how the Hawaii Department of Agriculture trademarked the Kona Coffee; and an article on the licensing deal between Starbucks and the Ethiopian government. Thanks for our anonymous commenter/s for the tip 🙂

RELATED POSTS: Conversations on Culture and Commerce (Part One, Two, Three). PHOTO CREDIT: Pinoycoffees.com

7 thoughts on “Who Owns Our Place Names and Cultural Icons?”

  1. Indigenous groups grapple with ownership of cultural icons and names. For example, there is profound levels of exchange on trademarking. Note how good the quality of exchange among Hawaiian leaders of different backgrounds and expertise. Some of the proceedings are in youtube.


  2. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks so much for pointing that link to us. As we grapple with issues such as cultural copyrights and trademarks it is good to learn how other indigenous peoples in other parts of the world have tackled the issue. I have downloaded the study and will soon go through it. I hope to blog about how the Hawaiis are dealing with this issue in the future. Thanks again.

  3. Since we are talking about coffee here, may I provide a webpage that tells a little bit about the Hawaii’s Kona coffee trademark?


    Reclaiming place names and cultural icons because of economic loss or gain requires intimate knowledge and practice related to those which one claims to protect.
    The Kona coffee trademark was not in place yet in the 90s. Our final exam question in a college-level agricultural trade course then was whether or not the State of Hawaii had a legitimate reason to spend taxpayers’ money to protect the Kona coffee label. It was interesting that our professor engaged us in real issues of the day and we had to earn our grade that way!

  4. Yes, the Evil Starbucks has been legally preventing Ethiopia from using their right to identify their coffee varieties. This is a big loss to their farmers.

    This is disgusting as Ethiopia is long regarded as the birthplace of coffee.

  5. Hi Anonymous (8:34)
    Wow. That was a good read. I’m glad the Hawaii agri department protected the Kona name. Thanks for pointing out the article and I agree with your take that we should really know or familiarize ourselves with the things that we want to reclaim or protect. Thanks.

    Hi Anonymous (9:27)
    Thanks for that link. Another interesting read. I’m adding the links at the main post so other readers can read them.

    Hi Nashman,
    That’s too true. Its a shame that Starbucks is preventing Ethiopia from getting trademarks for its coffee. It seems like its a no-win situation for “third worlders”, either we can’t get trademarks because its been trademarked already by first world countries or their companies are preventing us from getting trademarks as is happening in this Ethiopian/Starbucks story. Thanks.

  6. Protecting the names where we come from, from being taken by just anybody as a trademark also goes protecting all that is within it to include our culture,waterfalls, scenic spots, and even our footprints.

    In a tourist town for example where almost any tourist will get a picture of the caves to an old woman in her 90s pensively sitting by her frontyard, no rules are clear, that is among locals of what is intellectual property rights are or what laws provide for violation against using the name of place for a trademark.

    While we have the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and laws on Intellectual Property Rights, these I understand havent yet been internalized among our kakailyan what these are in order to protect our rights towards our own creations and our culture including the names of our origins. What more to laws which are not yet in existence.

    To support the earlier suggestion, our lawyers especially our lawyer-congressmen can do something about this. Hoy gising….!

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