Intellectual property law is complex to begin with, but certain claims often create a gray area that requires legal action to clarify. Intellectual property law, including trademarks and patents, allows one person or group to take legal action if someone else attempts to use and profit from a protected work. Trademark protection includes items such as a symbol, design or word that identifies the product. However, it may not always be clear how far that protection may go.
While most claims of trademark violation involve a financial interest, some entities have attempted to trademark words or phrases that are precious to groups for reasons other than money. For example, New York fans of Disney's "The Lion King" may enjoy singing along with the song "Hakuna Matata," a Swahili phrase that Disney trademarked 24 years ago. However, Zimbabwean activists now say Disney had no right to claim this phrase and that capitalizing on it is an insult to the Swahili people.
Disney spokespeople explain that the trademark registration for "Hakuna Matata" does not prevent anyone from using the words, which roughly mean "no problem" in English. The trademark protection is limited to T-shirts that contain references to "The Lion King." Disney also contests that other words, such as "Yahoo" and "Merry Christmas," have similar trademark protections within limited contexts. Nevertheless, opponents of the trademark say it speaks to the broader question of the exploitation of Africa.
Because the nuances of intellectual property law can be subtle and complex, it may be difficult to know the proper course of action when faced with a dispute. Whether one is seeking trademark protection or concerned that someone is violating such a protection, it may be best to obtain a legal consultation. A New York attorney can review the circumstances and advise one on the most appropriate course of action.