Jamaican proverbial wisdom warns that 'follow-fashion monkey never drink good soup'. Of course, not all monkeys are particular about the soup they drink. Some are quite happy to follow fashion - good, bad and indifferent. Monkey see, monkey do. For discriminating monkeys, originality does matter. They set the fashion trends that others slavishly follow.
Let me make it absolutely clear that I'm using both 'fashion' and 'monkey' in exactly the same symbolic sense as the proverb does. The primary issue is neither tasteless fashion nor hairy primates drinking soup. It's about creative people who don't simply mimic others - in whatever field: culinary arts, architecture, music, IT, and, of course, fashion.
Proverbial wisdom from another culture authoritatively declares that 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery'. We know how that goes. We're accustomed to being copied: our music, language, body language, fashion and religion. Even our distinctive style of 'badness' attracts imitators. And if we don't feel flattered, that's just too bad for us. We're supposed to be grateful.
But imitation often looks a lot like downright theft. Plus, you can't take flattery to the bank. In an age in which intellectual property does have real value, it's not flattering to have your creative ideas stolen. You can't just let people monkey around with your intangible assets. Protection of rights is essential.
'Fashion over style'
All the same, some imitation is positively good, especially when it drives healthy competition and gives consumers choice. An excellent case in point is our weeks of style and fashion. Pulse Investments Ltd first staged Caribbean Fashionweek in 2001. Saint International followed suit in 2004 with Style Week.
It was dancehall icon Gerald 'Bogle' Levy who popularised the quip 'fashion over style'. He got the ranking right. Admittedly, I'm prejudiced. Pulse's CEO is my brother, Kingsley. Objectively speaking though, he's one of the most enterprising people I know. Who would have thought that Jamaica could have created an international modelling agency? Let alone two, and counting.
Saint's CEO Deiwght Peters was once employed by Pulse. He learnt all he could then set up shop. Saint models have followed in the footsteps of the Pulse originals and have also done Jamaica proud. I suppose Kingsley really ought to feel flattered by Deiwght's imitation of the inventiveness for which the Pulse brand is widely known.
The case of Caribbean International Fashion Week is a whole other story. If you Googled 'Caribbean Fashionweek' last week, the first item that came up as news from New York was this: 'IMAN Cosmetics to be the Exclusive Makeup Sponsor for Caribbean International Fashion Week'. Believe it or not, this US-based Caribbean International Fashion Week has absolutely nothing to do with the Jamaican original.
But the publicity for the event brazenly started off using the name 'Caribbean Fashion Week' and even appropriated Pulse's CFW logo in an apparent attempt to pass off the imitation as the original. Kingsley, who is an attorney-at-law first and foremost, quickly put a stop to that. The belated addition of 'international' still doesn't distinguish the copy from the original. Our Jamaican event has always been international.
On top of that, the New York version was scheduled to premiere last Wednesday, the very same week that Pulse's Caribbean Fashionweek 2011 kicked off. The organisers of Style Week have the good sense to try to upstage CFW by coming first and at a decent interval - in the month before. By contrast, Top Job (TJ) Public Relations, the promoter of Caribbean International Fashion Week, is doing a great job of deliberately creating confusion.
Protecting Jamaican brands
I guess Kingsley could feel flattered if he tried really hard. Glenda Lugay, CEO of TJ Public Relations, came to CFW in 2008 to promote one of her clients, Sushma Patel, a designer from India whose iridescent creations express the bling aesthetic of traditional saris.
Ms Lugay seems to have liked what she saw at CFW and decided to run with it. All very well and good. But she needed to give credit where credit was due.
Ironically, TJ Public Relations doesn't seem to be practising what the company preaches. According to the website of the Beverly Hills-based firm, TJ "works with a variety of entrepreneurs and small businesses in areas such as brand management and consulting". Brand management is not the same as unfairly exploiting a 'foreign' brand.
Jamaican companies face a major difficulty as we try to protect our brands overseas. Successive governments have not signed on to the Madrid system for the international registration of trademarks. The system comprises the 1891 Madrid Agreement and the less-restrictive 1989 Madrid Protocol, which are administered by the International Bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organisation in Geneva.
The advantage of the Jamaican Government's signing on to the Madrid Protocol is that a trademark registered here would eventually be protected in all the countries in the system. So Pulse's Caribbean Fashionweek trademark couldn't be 'imitated' in the US, which is a signatory to the Madrid Protocol.
At present, Jamaican companies have to register their marks individually in every single country in which they are seeking protection.
This is a costly business. It would be so much cheaper to pay one set of fees locally and benefit from international coverage.
The advantage of the Madrid system is also its disadvantage. Local registration is 'married' to international. If the terms of local registration are altered, so are the international. But, as in a good marriage, the pros of entanglement often do outweigh the cons of going it alone. The Jamaican Government really should make it much easier for owners of locally registered trademarks to protect their intellectual property globally - for better or worse.