Mother Teresa’s Trademark Saree

September 4, 2017

On the 20th anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, the global humanitarian icon, people around the world will remember her compassionate, age-battered face, framed by her (now, literally) trademark blue and white sari.

(UN Photo/B. Lane)

Mother Teresa died on Sept 5, 1997, in Kolkata, India after decades of charity work there that won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.  In her will, she stipulated that her likeness should not be used after her death for trade purposes, according to Biswajit Sarkar, an India-based lawyer who performs pro-bono work for Missionaries of Charity, which Mother Teresa founded.

However, “in the passage of time, we saw many instances of people trying to use the Mother’s name for commercial gain. So that was not fair,” Mr. Sarkar said in an interview. In particular, Mr. Sarkar heard of unauthorized sale of blue-and-white striped sarees that closely resembled those worn by Mother Teresa and other members of the Missionaries of Charity.

Those garments, which are closely identified with the charity and its founder, are woven specifically for the Missionaries of Charity by sufferers of leprosy, said Mr. Sarkar.

Mr. Sarkar says he found the time propitious to try for a “color trademark” for the blue and white sarees in India.

On September 4, 2016, the Government of India granted the trade mark registration – the date of Mother Teresa’s canonization as a Saint. That was a Sunday, a non-working day in India: “The government of India took the initiative to do it on that day,” he said.

Ultimately, the goal of using the IP system for Mother Teresa’s saree is to keep true to her last will and testament. “We don’t want to punish anyone,” said Mr. Sarkar. “We are not into any business.”