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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Koha - intellectual property

Koha is the name of the open-source library software developed by the Horowhenua Library Trust in Levin New Zealand.   It was given the name 'koha' because it was intended to be a 'gift' to any library or organisation that wanted to use it.  Koha is the Maori word for gift, donation or parting message.   This word is in common usage in New Zealand by both Maori and Pakeha and often it is used when we want to give a donation to help  fund an event being attended by the giver.  It is also used when staying on a marae or meeting-place to fund the expenses that have been incurred in the visit.
The essence of the word is that it is a gift - freely given and that is why it was chosen and used and also why it was not protected as a trademark.   The software has been exported and  is now used around the world.   In particular it has enabled libraries in developing countries to automate their collections and provide a better service to their people without the huge expense of other ILSs.
Now a US company Liblime has applied to register the word KOHA for computer software.  The Horowhenua Library Trust and other libraries like the New Zealand School of Export Library who use Koha face a battle to oppose this application.
There is a guest post on the Patentbuff blog which you can read here: http://www.patentbuff.com/2011/11/guest-post-how-koha-trade-mark-dispute.html  in which it is stated quite clearly that because the Horowhenua Library Trust has prior use of the trade mark KOHA in New Zealand , there is a good chance the Library Trust could successfully oppose the application.
You can also read Librarian Joann Ransom's plea for help here:  http://koha-community.org/plea-horowhenua-library-trust/
This is a classic case of Maori words being used in a way which is completely against the spirit or wairua of the word.   Of course it may also be regarded as a case of the ignorant exporter unwittingly giving away intellectual property because they haven't done their homework.
Let's hope that Liblime will try to understand this situation and like the American company which tried to market a beer called 'Maori King' will withdraw the application.   Colorado Brewery Funkwerks changed the name when they learned of the significance of their chosen name and the fact that there was indeed a Maori King.

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