Air New Zealand has applied to trademark "Kia Ora" but an intellectual property specialist says it's unlikely to be approved.
The application was made in mid-May. The airline said it related on the logo design on the front of its inflight Kia Ora magazine.
Alex Sims, associate professor in the University of Auckland's department of commercial law, said she doubted the application would be approved.
"Because of the use of the words 'Kia Ora', even though an image is being attempted to be registered, rather than the actual words, Air New Zealand's application needs to go through the Māori Trade Marks Advisory Committee. The Committee provides advice to the Commissioner of Trade Marks on the registrability of trademarks. The question is whether "Kia Ora" is offensive to Māori. On the one hand, it could be argued that is not, but, on the other hand, it does look as though Air New Zealand is attempting to appropriate a very common and important Māori term, which may tip it into being offensive."
She said, if it was granted, a trademark would not give Air New Zealand a monopoly over the term.
"First, the registration is for only magazines, both in hard copy and online. Second, it is for the image only and when it is being used as a trade mark. So using the words Kia Ora, for example, in story in a magazine where a character says 'Kia Ora' as a greeting to another person would not infringe."
Sims even without a trademark, the airline would have protection under the Fair Trading Act and the common law concept of "passing off" if people were being misled into thinking they were looking at an Air New Zealand product when they were not.
Air New Zealand said it was standard practice for it to have all its logos trademarked.
"We have just started the process given Kia Ora has recently been through a refresh," a spokeswoman said in a statement.
"Our inflight magazine is one of the first things our customers see when they get onto one of our domestic flights and we are proud to promote the Maori language. Kia ora is also well known as our greeting on our flights and is also the first thing our customers see on our IFE.
"We have great respect for the Maori language and hugely supportive of Maori Language Week which is why we announced yesterday we are rolling out te reo as a language option on our kiosks and IFE.
"This is simply about protecting the logo. The word 'kia ora' has been registered to be used for a range of goods and services – dating back to 1992 – both in New Zealand and overseas."
Last year, My Food Bag was threatened by German-multinational corporation HelloFresh's over use of the word "hello".
The Kiwi company received a "cease and desist" letter from HelloFresh, telling it to stop using "hello" in marketing My Food Bag's product offer called "Fresh Start with Nadia" aimed at people who want to lose weight.
At the time, intellectual property lawyers said it was not possible to trademark a word that was being used as a greeting, but a product such as Hello-brand pyjamas might be able to be trademarked.
If a trademark describes goods or a service, rather than signifying the brand, then it's unlikely to be allowed.
Previous attempts to trademark things such as "New Zealand water" have been unsuccessful because they describe a product - and could equally apply to other items.