French Firm Poaches and Patents PNG’s “Bilum”

The French Have Poached Our Bilum

A French firm has patented the bilum. Yes, it’s true. And the name of this particular French firm – well, have a guess! The firm has decided to call itself Bilum and you can find their website here.

Bilum (the French firm) makes bags and accessories using recycled advertising banners. Every one is unique, because the material comes from the giant advertising hoardings that are found on buildings undergoing work, department stores, and on the outskirts of large cities. The French brand (yes – it is now a ‘French brand’) uses recycled car seatbelts as handles and straps for its designs.

The most ironic thing about this French firm is that it labels its’ creations as “eco-ethical fashion” and it even entered the 2008 Ethical Fashion Show. I can accept the “eco” and the “fashion” – but how in the world can it be termed “ethical” when its’ commercial brand is a poached national cultural-identity unique to An Example of the French "Bilum".Papua New Guinea?

Treehugger wrote an article highlighting Bilum’s bags on the Paris shopping scene and a couple of wantoks have already voiced their concerns. The following is an excerpt of one such comment made by Rick Brittain, a Cairns’ expatriate who works in PNG:

My original concern was that the name ‘bilum’ has basically been monopolized now, Internationally, and has been removed from its PNG roots. I actually met with Helene earlier this year, and found out that the company she operates is a predominently non-profit, recycling centre, using people with special needs to manufacture her bilums. Good luck to her, and I have no problem with that, and she is a genuine lady with genuine concerns for our planet.

I donated a couple of PNG bilums for her use, and she reciprocated with her bilums, which are certainly unique, but not genuine bilums as anyone who has spent time in PNG will tell you…(and)…you cannot mimic culture, it’s developed through centuries of trial and error.

NOTE:

The author of Tubuans & Dukduks has somehow managed to keep his/her emotions under control for the duration of the penning of this post. But I will say say this: Paia bilong mi em i dai nating.

I will be sending Bilum (the French firm) an email detailing my deep concern about the blatant poaching and patenting of PNG’s name and product – bilum. So too can you. Here is their email address: contact@bilum.fr

UPDATE:

Read ‘Bilums’ Response to this story here.

~ by Tavurvur on February 9, 2009.

43 Responses to “French Firm Poaches and Patents PNG’s “Bilum””

  1. Never really did like the french!!

    R

  2. Thanks for this post Tavurvur.

    This is the first I’ve heard about it. I guess we shouldn’t be surprise – our bilum is a very marketable product.

  3. Tavurvur,

    I just want to commend you on an excellent blog. Keep up the good work. I will be a regular follower and an eager reader of some of the issues you discuss from now on.

    Karanas PNG

  4. Well on the flip side our skillful bilum weavers will now have the opportunity to find a profitable venture in the French “Bilum” industry.

    We have evolved from using traditional ropes, special plants and tree bark to using strings and wool to make bilums and baskets. I guess the skill employed in weaving bilums can’t be easily replicated by the Bilum firm in France.

    There is indeed a niche market and what we can do is weave bilums in mass production with a “PNG made” trade label and export to the French “Bilum” firm as the genuine “bilum” straight from where the company’s name is derived or happens to be coincidentally the same. That can be a profitable enterprise.

    Our woven rope bilums are in fact eco-friendly and fashionable, let alone the unique PNG garments made from bilum would be an envy for the French firm and the fashion industry.

  5. Thanks T for another top find! Well it seems the French have don it again??!! First, Deep Forest and the Solomon Island lyrics used in ‘Sweet Lullaby’: http://masalai.wordpress.com/2008/06/18/sweet-solomon-islands-lullaby/

    And now this. Maybe to the French Firm’s credit they do give an explanation on their website as to the meaning of ‘Bilum’. But it could perhaps be a bit more detailed than just a one liner.

    Also it would be absolutely critical that her bags are never, ever called ‘Bilums’ The firm can perhaps get away with being called ‘Bilum’ but the product should never ever be called a ‘bilum’

    Its a pity we only saw this now when it appears that she started around 2006.

  6. Oh and T, let us know if she replies to you

  7. Solo,

    I like your idea about possibly mass producing bilums with a “PNG made” trade label and exporting them as being the genuine “bilum” to target markets.

    And you’re right about the eco-friendly and fashionable bit too – it could very well be a profitable enterprise for the entrepreneur.

    And I will let you folks know if Bilum does reply to my email.

  8. Oh and while we’re at it, check out this electronic song, aptly named ‘Papua New Guinea‘ from Wikipedia.

    Perhaps its time the Cultural Commission began some intellectual property registrations of our names etc

  9. Tavurvur, I will do more research on this and write an article for The National tomorrow. I will also cite your blog as the first source of information and will also probe further into this ‘Bilum’ company in the USA.

  10. Yes please Malum, please write about it and just a note they are based in France, not the US.

    You might want to use the example of ‘Deep Forest’ as well to reinforce what is happening with our cultural identity being commercialised.

  11. Patenting an item is different from using a term in a domain name..

  12. If anything it’s a matter of Trademark not patent.
    Look at this … it’s an argument over domain names and bilum.com is mentioned under B. Respondent.. don’t think it’s the same bilum tho??: http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/decisions/html/2005/d2005-1272.html

  13. Malum,

    Thanks for your interest in writing an article about my post in The National. I think it is important that the people of PNG are informed of the matter.

    Tess, the issue at stake is not an argument about a domain name, ie. bilum.com. The French firm, Bilum, HAVE patented the product in France in order to protect it from possible competition.

    Legally, the issue could be argued in favour of Bilum – but that doesn’t make it ethical.

    There is no problem with Bilum drawing inspiration from PNG bilums and maybe even calling themselves “Bilum” – which they have and openly admit to – but patenting an item that is of significant cultural value to a country is unaccetable.

    Not to the people of Papua New Guinea.

  14. It is culture we are talking about, I dont believe it can be marketed by others profit or non profit. There is more people in need in PNG (not alot of govt. funding for the needy). I believe it is a great idea, just make sure it helps the poeple who spent years making it a fine art…on the flip side I am sure the french stole the wheel of us aswell….

  15. Rem.rex,

    Good point R.R about making sure it helps the people who have spent years making it a fine art. Very true.

    What do you mean about the French stealing the wheel from us?

  16. […] by Tavurvur: French Firm Poaches and Patents PNG’s “Bilum” […]

  17. ooh the French, a culture so arrogant, so refined, so innovative, so evolved, so sophisticted and with that comes what is know as the language of diplomacy. Yet a French subject could not find a term in thier HIGH CULTURE and huge repertoire of vocabulary to find an apt word for an innovation.It borrows from the nation of the living art – PNG. BILUM – HIGH CULTURE lacks innovation and borrows.

  18. Bilum is unique to PNG. If this unique cultural heritage finds popularity in the world market and can be produced massively in factories ( as it can be) with technoligies. PNG would loose very very badly. We as a nation have so many things to do however this is also a pressing issue to address as a nation

  19. Flojo,

    I like what you said – nicely put.

    Tavurvur

  20. Tavurvur: I completely share your concerns about this, our traditional piece.

    However, i’ve searched the WIPO and EPO websites for the patent you speak of and cannot find any patents / patent applications, or any news of such, either in English or using the term ‘bilum’ under French titles or French abstracts. If there is a patent then it would be listed under WIPO and the EPO. (There is also the French Patent Office but their site is pretty basic.)

    I am keen to know more if you have any further information on this supposed patent.. if you can provide please?? This is a serious matter and i would hope that before an article is written about it, the journo would do the proper searches with the patent organisations above.

  21. I posted a 5 second amateur animation titled, “Papua New Guinea Bilum” on YouTube. The link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbpu9Hh0ivY

  22. Nice blog Tee, I was planning something creative to do with our BILUM and came across this information. I created the animation as posted above, however, I am motivated to do few more and a bit longer than 5 seconds after all these news!

  23. […] New Guinea Bilum – A 5 Second Animation There has been huge interest in my post about the poaching and patenting of our Bilum. I have been inundated with enquiries about the article and have tried my best to meet the demands […]

  24. Soli Draw,

    Thanks for informing me of your work. I did a mini post on it. I hope you don’t mind.

    Great graphics work too! Love your PNG work.

    Regards,

    Tavurvur

  25. Tee,
    I appreciate the compliments & thank you so much for showcasing my “5 second animation”. A second animation is currently in the making.

    Soli Draw

  26. Like the blog…. so this is what the french get up to… lol…oh well i’d love to read the reply from the firm…😉

  27. Please remember that to misquote someone can also be misleading at times. You have suggested with your “quote” of my comments on the Treehugger website, that was my statement in its’ entirety. Not so, and in fact my original comments to Helene de la Moureyre were a lot less kind, as follow ;

    “Please try to remember you are copying a significant cultural idea from another country, and the penultimate statement that you make “At this time, you can only NAB bilum bags in Paris” is a farce. Bilums are available anywhere in Papua New Guinea, and they are the genuine article…not some commercial tool for you guys. If you want a proper Bilum, I will send you one Gratis, so you can see how much personal effort goes into the creation of one.

    Thanks,

    Rick Brittain
    (an expatriate working in PNG)
    Cairns, Qld, Australia”

    After I had sent this to the Bilum.fr site as well, I received a response from Helene explaining her situation, and that she always promotes PNG as the originators of the Bilum concept, within her Company, and all marketing routines.

    I paid for, and had two PNG bilums made for her use, one of which depicts the PNG flag, and now proudly hangs in her office lobby in Paris. She is a humble/genuine person, and has no ill intent towards the people of PNG, and it was after seeing a genuine bilum as a child, that she was inspired to produce the product she now sells in France, under the registered trademark “Bilum”.

    Thank you for helping bring to the attention of everyone in PNG, that their Bilum is now internationally recognised, and I personally am constantly being asked for genuine bilums for people from all over the world.

    Every time I go on break frm PNG, I buy a few from our local sisters, and send them free of charge (I do not even charge for postage) to anyone in the world that wants one.

    I have recently sent out 5 to various women who wanted to use them in their Womens World Day of Prayer (6th March 2009), which this year focusses on the people of PNG and their culture.

    Whether the Bilums are a French fashion product, or the genuine article from PNG, the word is out….they are valued items.

    Thank you for this opportunity to respond, and hopefully clarify my input to the various Blogs on this matter.

    Cheers,

    Rick Brittain

  28. Rick,

    Thanks for your comment. I have updated my post to reflect that what I included in my post is an excerpt of one of your comments.

    I have only quoted one of your comments and not the one you have since posted up. There was no intention on my part to mislead my readers by suggesting that the quote I cited was your statement in its entirety.

    In fact, by reading the quote cited, readers can deduce that your “original concern” must mean you did make more than one comment.

    The link to those comments is provided.

    Regards,

    Tavurvur

  29. So T:

    1. has she replied to you?
    2. Have you confirmed that it is a registered patent?
    3. Will she refrain from ever calling any of her products bilums? (only her firm should be able to use the word ‘bilum’)

  30. Hello Tavurvur,
    Thank you for your response/clarification, it’s much appreciated.
    In addition to this, I would like to include a link to another weblog that I have contributed to, for some years with regards to PNG bilums. I have just placed another comment at the foot of the other site….

    http://halfpie.net/article/474/bilum-bilong-beki

    …. and I’m hoping that anyone now entering that site, will feel inclined to look at your site here, in the hope of getting some contacts/sellers of genuine PNG bilums from here.

    This will, (hopefully) have a double-sided benefit, in that it will save me some money (by not having to buy several bilums each trip), and allow others on here to start selling (and promoting) bilums to people all over the world, at whatever price the market will bear.

    Thanks again, and keep us posted as to what response you do receive from Helene.

    Rick Brittain

  31. Hey there! I’m the person who owns the site Rick refers to above… and I get regular requests from people around the world asking where they can purchase them. (Some quirk of Google has made my blog posting the top hit for “buy bilum”, which was certainly not my intention when I wrote the piece.)

    Some enterprising PNG people have left their details with me in case I get further bilum enquiries… I have no idea how often this works for them – I hope it does. Over the years I have collected a little file of email addresses that I send to prospective bilum purchasers.

    While this is great (and Rick’s part in all this is frankly amazing – what a champion!) this isn’t really the most efficient way for us all to spread the word about bilums, and get them into the hands of all those people around the world (and thereby make “bilum” synonymous with the REAL thing).

    And so, as well as using my file of email addresses, I’d love to be able to refer my site visitors to a PNG online shop where bilums can be purchased. Does anyone know of one?

    Thanks!

  32. Hi Alan,

    Thanks for getting in touch with me.

    The bilum has become synonymous with PNG – it’s a national cultural piece which is instantly recognised anywhere around the world. It’s a national emblem – it represents the people and the country of PNG.

    There is one site I would like to reccomend to you that offers PNG bilums and other artefacts at a price which I find extremely fair to the international buyer.

    The firm is called Arts of Papua New Guinea, and you can find their website here: http://www.artspng.com/

    Regards,

    Tavurvur

  33. […] has been a tremendous amount of publicity and discussion online about my article French Firm Poaches & Patents PNG’s “Bilum”. That discussion climaxed last week Thursday with Radio Australia’s In the Loop hosts Clement […]

  34. I’m sorry to reply so late but I wanted to take the time for it, because it is very important for you, and for me.

    My activity is pretty small. We are only 3 people and had a lot of work this last month.

    I never wanted to steal the know-how and the word bilum to the NPG culture.

    I use recycled advertising banners and car seatbelts to make my bags, which are completely different from NPG string bags.

    I do not copy the NPG method of weaving.

    So, there is no risk of confusion between my bags and NPG bags.

    Furthermore, the word BILUM is a valid French trademark which was registered by the French Intellectual Property Registry in august 2005.

    « bilum » is a brand name, an it will never be the name of any french bag.

    Let me explain you our spirit :
    Our signature is « unical – ethical – ecological ».
    – Unical because each bag is made from a special part of recuperated huge advertising banner. So the apparence of each bag is very different.
    – Ethical because they are made in special centers working with disabled people, or people with social troubles, to give them an opportunity to have a job and earn their life.
    – Ecological because instead of wasting energy to produce fabric, we use banners which would be burned otherwise, and seat belt from broken cars, to carry the bag. Everything is made around Paris to avoid burning petrol for the transport. The banners are handly washed with eco friendly soap.

    Here are our valours and convictions, I’m really sorry if there was any misanderstanding about that.

    As you may know, I first received an email from Rick Brittain, who, first, reacted negativly to the use of the word bilum. We had a chance to meet each other. He understood my approach and integrity. We exchanged some NPG bags and my bags. I was very happy, a few weeks later, when I received some pictures of NPG’s women bags workers wearing my parisian bags. I thank them once again for the beautiful bags they offered me.

    I hope, with this letter, having given you some ideas of the bilum’s brand spirit.
    Hoping to hear from you soon
    Sincerily yours,

    Helene de La Moureyre

  35. T bloke,

    I recently received an email from Helene explaining that she had now responded to the flurry of responses in here, but I can’t find it anywhere on this page.

    Did you get a response from her as yet, as I (along with a few others, no doubt) are curious as to what her thoughts are on this.

    Cheers,

    Rick Brittain

  36. Rick,

    Thanks for the comment. YES! I do have a response from Helene (FINALLY) and I will post it up on my Blog as soon as possible!

    I’ve been traveling and working for the past month and have just managed to get myself back to normalcy. There’s a huge number of comments and emails to get through first – Helen’s response will be up by the end of this week.

    Regards,

    Tavurvur

  37. hi all interesting article – i initiated the ‘bilumwear’ trend back in 1997 with agroup of meris from Morata settelemenet – we designed and produced and then exported our traditional twine bilum clothing to Italy – we attended two major Fashion Trade Expos in Milano and generated clients fomr the south of France and Italy – I have been in contact with Helene from the french bilum label for quite some time and even made suggestions to commence collaborative work with her firm and our PNG counterparts in exploring the potential of traditional bilum twine textile for garment and accessory production – very difficult to do though when you are on the other side of the world However, i beleive that the traditional bilum textile will beocme a possible cottage industry for PNg and its women – i am trying to get this project on the way – and yes, i patented my label “Sharon Brissoni” in Italy since 1999, it covers all my designs but does not include bilum, the use of bilum or its textile as this is, and always will be part of PNG tradition and culture- lukim

  38. Hi Shazza,

    I wonder if you would have any photos of your trip to Milano? It would be interesting to write a little article about it. The concept of ‘bilumwear’ being marketed internationally is well worthwhile. The venture needs to be marketed properly and promoted wisely. There is so much potential here!

    Tavurvur

  39. Hi tavurvur
    would it be possible to contact you on a private email address?
    Furthermore, i am not sure if you know that there is going to be two very important exhibitions of bilumwear in London and the States this september – i can try to get pictures of this as well – i think we should promote bilumwear as best we can and the more exposure the product gets the further chance of developing a cottage industry
    lukim

  40. i think mass production on bilums is a bad idea. i understand that its good for tourism and exposing people to our rich, diverse and unique culture. but i love bilums. i think the best way is to keep it in png, its part of our culture and another reason why people come to visit our land on the unexpected. once you start mass producing something as integral to our culture and identity, it become generic. mass producing the bilum would make it a ‘norm’, and soon enough i don’t think poeple would relate the bilum to png. also a bilum is made from hand and through hard work. i have a lot of bilums made by my relatives before i left home. i like to think they’re also made with love

  41. The PNG govt should sue Helene for taking our national treasure and going as far as patenting the name “Bilum”. What in the world are these french people trying to do now? They have seeped into Melanesia (look at New Caledonia and Vanuatu) and are trying to destroy our culture.

  42. […] This decade, we see them moving across the islands to Papua New Guinea, where the local word “bilum” is at the centre of yet another propriety theft. […]

  43. deefiji,

    Do you have a link to whatever site you’re referring to at all..?

    angrybilum,

    You want the PNG Government to sue Helene, and do what exactly, with the money they might get…?..Perhaps buy even more property in Cairns with it..? Sounds fair to me…but what about you..?

    Cheers,

    Rick
    Cairns & PNG

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