#Yorubaisnotforsale: Validity of a trademark can be challenged – IPO

THE United Kingdom’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has said that the validity of a registered trademark can be challenged by any member of the public.

The IPO has come under fire for approving the application of an outdoor clothing brand Timbuktu Global, owned by two White Britons, to trademark the term ‘Yoruba’ and by so doing prevent anyone else from registering a company using the name.

“Trademarks and intellectual property touch every part of modern life, and we know that our decisions are important not just for those submitting the application, but for the wider public and communities they affect,” the office tweeted on Monday via its recognised handle @The_IPO.

It explained that its role when examining trademarks was to interpret existing laws and be as transparent as possible in its decision-making processes, while reflecting the society.

Records from the IPO office showed that Timbuktu Global filed to trademark the word ‘Yoruba’ on November 17, 2015, and secured an approval, even though it did not offer services or products that had anything to do with Yoruba.

Last year, the founder of Culture Tree (an African cultural center in London) Gbemisola Isimi, who is from the Western part of Nigeria, filed to trademark the term ‘Yoruba Stars’ for a programme that taught children Yoruba language but allegedly received a message from the IPO months later that the word ‘Yoruba’ had been trademarked and could not be used.

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She reached out to Timbuktu Global, which opposed her attempts to register her own phrase, and instead offered to sell the trademark to Culture Tree.

“I refused the offer and told them they won’t be getting any free money from me,” Isimi said, adding, “I feel this is the height of cultural appropriation.”

The Culture Tree founder went public with the case on Sunday and many Africans saw an undertone of colonialism in the move by the company and called them out for it, insisting that ‘Yoruba’ and ‘Timbuktu’ (the name of a city in Mali) should not be used by Timbuktu Global.

“This is cultural appropriation at its finest. The violence of trademarking the word Yoruba (a language and a people), and then taking action to prevent an actual Yoruba woman from using the word that is her heritage and her language. How disgusting. Colonisers stay colonizing,” Sonya Onwu tweeted.

Naira Banks also wrote on Twitter: “Yoruba is an ethnic group, religion, a rich culture, a language and so much more. How was it legal to do this?”



    Isimi’s post calling attention to the action by Timbuktu had gathered 8,851 retweets and 5,659 likes as at Tuesday evening. The growing attention the post garnered in two days pressured Timbuktu Global into hiding its Twitter account.

    The company has also written Isimi to inform her of its decision to transfer ownership of the trademark for Yoruba to Culture Tree ‘for free,’ saying it had spent thousands of British Pounds to ‘protect’ the trademark and had not benefited from it in anyway.

    “We are in the process of releasing/transferring Yoruba over to Culture Tree. We protected this name for five or more years at great expense to us (thousands of GBP) and we are handing it over for free,” the company’s mail said in part.

    According to UK laws, once a trade mark has been registered, there are four different forms of legal action that can be taken to challenge it and these include: invalidation, revocation, rectification and intervention.

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