Thu, Jan 20, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Lawyer hunting for ersatz Mandelas

WANTED An intellectual property lawyer is set on chasing down companies and individuals who are using the name of the man who beat apartheid

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Johannesburg, South Africa

As befits Africa's senior statesman and the world's living symbol of tolerance, this nation boasts a Nelson Mandela Foundation for charitable work, a Nelson Mandela Children's Fund to aid youth.

There is a Nelson Mandela Square dominated by a huge statue of Mandela.

There is a Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University; a Nelson Mandela Bridge; the Nelson Mandela Cup, a soccer trophy; and a Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum on Nelson Mandela Bay.

Then there were the Nelson Mandela Panel Beaters (slang for an auto-body repair shop) and the Nelson Mandela Foundation Web site (with a bank account in Cyprus and a falsified Pretoria address).

This is not to mention a woman in the Netherlands who obtained a trademark for the name Nelson Mandela.

Mandela coins

Along with Nelson Mandela gold coins, embossed with Mandela's profile, these Mandelas no longer exist.

"I reckon I'm going to spend the next six months chasing various Mandelas," Don MacRobert said in an interview. "The scaly rats."

MacRobert, a Johannesburg intellectual property lawyer, is on a mission to make the world safe -- OK, profitable, too -- for the real Nelson Mandela, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and South Africa's first black president.

The real Nelson Mandela, now 86 and retired, has put his name on charitable foundations for children, education and AIDS awareness, among other causes.

Anything that cheapens the Mandela name, MacRobert says, robs the legitimate charities of the cachet that draws donors.

"People say, `Why would I give to the Nelson Mandela Foundation when there's Nelson Mandela this and Nelson Mandela that?'" he said.

"To me, certain names are no-go commercial zones -- Mandela and Sisulu and Tambo in our country, for instance. Kennedy in yours."

So at the instruction of Mandela and his charitable fiefs, MacRobert is going after ersatz Mandelas with a vengeance.

South Africa's intellectual property laws are not unlike those in Europe and the US, forbidding the unauthorized use of protected properties when this "would be likely to take unfair advantage of, or be detrimental to" their "distinctive character or repute."

Violators can be fined or sentenced to up to a year in prison.

There was, for example, a textile company that produced clothing bearing Mandela's grinning but unauthorized visage.

Now Defunct

Then there was the now defunct Nelson Mandela Fine Art collection, which knew little of Mandela's tastes, and some 30 other operations that MacRobert says he is still pursuing through legal action.

In fact, MacRobert's efforts go well beyond the Mandela name.

He has asked the South African government to grant Mandela trademarks not only for his given name, but for his clan name, Madiba, an affectionate reference widely used here.

Then there is his Xhosa name, Rohlihlahla; and the number 46664, which he was assigned during his 27 years in prison under apartheid.

Bad News

This could be bad news for Johannesburg's Mandela Guest Lodge or Madiba Auto Electric, not to mention Madiba Cash Loans and Madiba Cash&Carry in Eastern Cape Province, at the nation's southern tip.

Already, MacRobert has persuaded a Johannesburg coin dealer, Investgold ICC, not to incorporate 46664 into a telephone number it has used to sell 24-karat gold coins bearing Mandela's image.

Court Order

In December, MacRobert also won a court order barring Investgold from selling the coins, which it had been marketing under an agreement to pay a 5 percent royalty to the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

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