Making money from the Maasai

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An article in Bloomberg Business week interested me as an illustration of a meeting of worlds.

Kenyan/Tanzanian Maasai, unaware that their name was being used for marketing by global brands, are planning to take on companies such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein to regain intellectual copyright. 

The revenue made beggars belief:

“Layton [the lawyer representing the Maasai] estimates six companies have each made more than $100 million in annual sales during the last decade using the Maasai name.” says BBW. 

The legal ground is uncertain, and success far from assured; there have been battles fought along similar lines before, with varied success.

“’It’s a nice idea, but if it would work, the French deficit would be gone by asking for royalties on French fries,’ says Seth Siegel, co-founder of the Beanstalk Group, a trademark licensing agency and consultant.”

The Maasai were mostly unaware of the meaning of the vast sums made off the back of their culture. The cost of a Masai (sic) pen, $600, had to be explained to them in terms of cows. Three or four good ones. 

If they were to receive the $10million a year royalties quoted in the BBW article their material requests would be modest. 

“’We’re not going so far as to ask for electricity,’ says Saitoti Oloishiro, 42, a chief from northern Tanzania and one of the Maasai behind the project. ‘That would be a daydream. What we are saying is, we need maybe some water for our families and our animals, a dispensary. We need schools nearby.’” 

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