UK company’s ‘Yoruba’ trademark sparks outcry

Nigerians on Twitter have criticised a British clothing retailer for trademarking the word “Yoruba”.

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Timbuktu Global, which is based in north-west England, filed papers to trademark “Yoruba” with the UK’s Intellectual Property Office in 2015.

But this only came to light when on Sunday, Gbemisola Isimi, the owner of a cultural organisation in London, said she was challenged by the company after trying to trademark the phrase “Yoruba Stars”.

That’s the name of the programme she runs to teach parents, children and toddlers the Yoruba language.

“I thought it was strange it was allowed to happen. I explained to them that Yoruba is not just a word, it’s the people, the religion, a language of over 50 million people all over the world, not just in Nigeria,” she told the BBC.

Ms Isimi said Timbuktu Global first opposed her use of the word before later proposing she purchase the trademark off them.

“I feel this is the height of cultural appropriation,” she wrote on Twitter.

“I told them I do not think Africans or the global media for that matter would take kindly to a company with roots in the north of England attempting to claim sole ownership of a birth right belonging to the people of another continent.”

The tweet has since been retweeted thousands of times and has led to the hashtag #YorubaIsNotForSale.

“How can a language/heritage of a tribe in Nigeria be trademarked in England?”, one person wrote.

“I need to go get a trademark on the following words: British, White, America, Poland, Netherlands, England, London, Windsor, China, Italy and so on. Yoruba is the name of people, language, land and country before colonialism,” said another person on Twitter.

Another pointed out that the name of the company, Timbuktu, refers to a real city in Mali, but its website said “Timbuktu is a fictional location” that “literally means ‘the middle of nowhere,’ a location that has intrigued mankind for centuries, whether it’s to discover something new or simply escape the everyday.”

In response to Ms Isimi’s tweets, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office said their decisions are based on existing laws and that the public can challenge the validity of a trademark.

It appears that Timbuktu Global has since closed down its Twitter and Instagram accounts and has shut down its website.

They have also emailed Ms Isimi to say they have filed an application to surrender their “Yoruba” trademark registration.

A representative of Timbuktu Global told the BBC “the matter has been concluded”.

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