Recently, the Hindu Times has reported that the Indian Trade Marks Office has allowed a trade mark for the pattern of the blue border of Mother Teresa’s sari to be registered. The proprietor of the trade mark is the Missionaries of Charity, the sisterhood founded by Mother Teresa in 1950. They wanted to try and control the use of the Mother Teresa’s name and the sari design, to prevent misuse for commercial purposes.
Mother Teresa, who was canonised in September 2016 as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, was born in Macedonia in 1910 and baptised as Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. At 18 years old, she joined the Sisters of Loreto convent in Ireland to learn English. She then moved to Darjeeling in India, where she learnt Bengali and became a teacher. When she took her religious vows in May 1931, she chose the name Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries. However, another nun at the convent had already chosen that name, so she opted for the Spanish spelling, Teresa.
In 1948, Sister Teresa began missionary work with the poor, swapping her traditional nun’s habit for a simple white cotton sari with a blue border. She adopted Indian citizenship, undertook basic medical training and started living in the Calcutta slums. She founded a school for the poorest children and supported a group of young women to make the foundation for a new religious community. In October 1950, she received Vatican permission to establish the Missionaries of Charity. By 1997, the group of 13 Calcutta women had grown to 4,000 sisters who cared for the hungry, homeless and the diseased. Mother Teresa is probably most renowned for accepting, caring for and opening hospices for leprosy sufferers. The saris have supposedly been woven by leprosy patients living in the Calcutta hospices for over three decades. In September 1997, Mother Teresa passed, aged 87, due to ill health.
In June 2014, an Indian attorney applied to register the word mark MOTHER TERESA in classes 36, 41, 43, 44 and 45 on behalf of the Missionaries of Charity or the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center. It was also reported that he helped the order to protect her name 20 years ago, although this registration is not publically available. However, it would seem that as there are multiple other registrations for or including MOTHER TERESA that are not owned by the order, the trade mark enforcement to date has not been a priority.
However, the application to register the border design of the sari is the first and this will potentially help the order to police and enforce its rights against any unfair commercial gain by others.