Chicago Journal of International Law


Countries have different levels of intellectual property (IP) protections. While developed countries tend to prefer more stringent IP laws, developing countries prefer weaker ones. With the enactment of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which established minimum standards of intellectual property rights (IPRs) for states party, the level of IPRs became much higher globally. However, despite affording strong protection to many types of IP, this Comment argues that TRIPS fails to provide adequate protection for traditional cultural marks (TCMs), particularly those used in developing countries. As a result, companies in developed countries have been able to steal TCMs from developing countries without violating TRIPS or other international law. This Comment uses as an example the attempted registration by a UK company of the word kikoi, the term for a traditional East African skirt, to demonstrate that TRIPS fails to protect this type of IP. With a focus on trademarks and geographical indications this Comment analyzes TRIPS and other laws in the context of traditional marks and argues that current international law is inadequate for the protection of traditional marks. It then discusses proposals to protect traditional IP and introduces a simple solution to the IP theft of traditional cultural marks.

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