SANParks wins court case after luxury game park ‘steals’ Mapungubwe name
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Pretoria - The use of the name “Mapungubwe” was the subject of a North Gauteng High Court legal battle between the South African National Parks (SANParks) and a luxury game reserve.
SANParks argued the name belonged to its national park in Limpopo, and that the nearby luxury game reserve could not call itself Mapungubwe Game Reserve.
The game reserve applied to the Registrar of Trademarks to use the word Mapungubwe in relation to its game reserve and related activities.
SANParks, however, opposed the registration and asked the court to dismiss the trademark application.
Its main gripe was that visitors across the world associate SANParks establishments with the name Mapungubwe. The game reserve, situated in Musina and privately owned by a Swedish national, was of the opinion that SANParks was not exclusively entitled to use the name Mapungubwe.
The name means “hill of the jackal”. SANParks told the court that it registered the trademark Mapungubwe National Park long before the game reserve came into existence.
The game reserve filed applications for the registration of various of its business activities using the name Mapungubwe. Apart from using the name to refer to its establishment, it also included the use of the name “Mapungubwe Spiritual Healing” - which entails gathering and retreats at its establishment of a spiritual nature.
It also wants to use the name “Mapungubwe Spiritual Sites” in relation to certain educational services it is providing to the public.
SANParks objected and said each of the trademarks the game reserve want to register, incorporate the word “Mapungubwe” as a dominant element, which is identical to its national park. It said the registration of the trademarks are likely to cause confusion among people.
The Mapungubwe National Park is situated in an area called Vhembe in Limpopo. It was declared a national park in April 1998 and named the Vhembe Dongola National Park.
It was proclaimed a national heritage site and world heritage site in 2001 and 2003 respectively. SANParks subsequently took over and in July 2004 the name of the park was changed to Mapungubwe National Park.
The rival game reserve told the court that the name Mapungubwe is the name of a place that historically has been in existence since the turn of the 12th century and not a trademark coined by SANParks.
It argued that it is a geographical location and thus no single person can claim exclusive rights of the name in a trademark context.
Counsel for the game reserve said people were entitled to make use of geographical names and argued that there was for instance a thriving hotel in Joburg called Mapungubwe, as well as a Mapungubwe Museum at the University of Pretoria.
Judge Nomsa Khumalo said the game reserve may not register the name Mapungubwe in relation to their business activities. The judge said SANParks registered its Mapungubwe National Park long before the game reserve tried to do so.
She said it had become known over the years that this national park belonged to SANParks and if the game reserve was allowed to also use the wording, it may cause confusion.
She said if the game reserve was allowed to also use the word Mapungubwe, it could be harmful to SANParks.
Counsel for the game reserve meanwhile said they were studying the judgment and would considering whether or not to appeal.