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December 10, 2018

Why Disney trademarked ‘Hakuna Matata’ — Lawyer

IP advocate Liz Lenjo
IP advocate Liz Lenjo

Despite being a Swahili phrase, "Hakuna Matata", meaning "no problem", has become the legal property of Walt Disney Company.

While this may baffle Kenyans, intellectual property lawyer Liz Lenjo says there is a logic behind the trademarking.

"The essence of trademarks is to protect where creativity is applied on language, symbols, colours, numbers to brand a product or good or service," Liz told Word Is yesterday.

"What this means is that in the countries selected by Disney for protection, nobody else can brand their T-shirts Hakuna Matata."

Disney filed a federal trademark registration for "Hakuna Matata" under serial number 74558335. It was granted the trademark vide registration number 27006605 for use on clothing.

This means the phrase cannot be used by any other organisation in America without written permission from Disney.

Hakuna Matata has been used by most Kiswahili-speaking countries. Asked who owns "Hakuna Matata", Liz said:

"Highly unlikely they registered in any East African countries because it's a common phrase here, and they would not get exclusivity because of that. Nobody owns it and Kenyans need to move away from trying to own everything.

"If we were to go that route, then we owe the Brits royalties for everyone who speaks English, or France for when we speak French."

As a Kenyan creative, she said, you can use it in your music video, film and fashion designs without infringing their right.

"It will most likely not infringe but it will depend on the context of the use of the phrase and territory," Liz said.

Disney has had the trademark “Hakuna Matata” since 1994, and it has since been renewed since they are renewed every 10 years. It is registered under Class 25 for Clothing, Footwear and Headgear.

Liz urged Kenyans to get informed about IP. "We still harbour a lot of assumptions about trademarks and the IP rights system in general, and we are stuck with the misrepresented or misinterpreted information of how the IP system works.

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