TALLAHASSEE, FL—The country formerly known as the United Republic of Tanzania has lost the use of its name to Tampa-based Tanzania Tanning Salons, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Monday.
"Any use of my country's name constitutes infringement on the plaintiff's trademark," said Benjamin Mkapa, president of the currently unnamed republic. "We've lost our national identity. This is a very sad day for the people once known as Tanzanians."
The United Republic of Tanzania, formed in 1964 from the union of African nations Tanganyika and Zanzibar, predates the tanning-salon chain, which opened its first store in Tampa in 1982. Nevertheless, after fewer than two weeks in court, the State of Florida granted legal rights to the name to Tanzania Salons founder and CEO Jerry Yeltzer.
"It was easy to establish that my client's company had a greater vested interest in the Tanzania brand name," said Yeltzer's lawyer, Ben Knowles. "Tanzania, the salon chain, is a rapidly growing business, adding nearly 50 locations each year. Tanzania, the African nation, is lanquishing under a debt of $7 billion."
Tanzania Salons is also close to completing a lucrative deal that would put its moisturizing and replenishing cream on the shelves of retail stores across the nation, making the situation even more pressing, Knowles added.
Yeltzer said he didn't realize that the African country existed until July 2001, when a routine Internet search brought the nation to his attention. Yeltzer said he created the name for Tanzania Salons by merging the words "tan" and "zany" to suggest a lighthearted, fun approach to indoor-tanning retail.
"When you come to a Tanzania location, you know you're in for an out-of-the-ordinary tanning experience," Yeltzer said. "Our salons are famous for their casual but professional atmosphere. Last year, four million customers visited Tanzania Salons. Can the country of Tanzania make that claim?"
Although Yeltzer refused to disclose the amount of money he spent to bring the trademark-infringement suit against the country, he said it was "sizable." His team of lawyers delivered the first cease-and-desist order to the nation of Tanzania in August 2001, but received no response from Mkapa until January 2003, when the letters were finally translated into Swahili.
"Had Mkapa changed the name when we asked, he could have saved his country all those legal fees," Yeltzer said. "Our lawyers know what they're doing. They're not afraid to take on a midsized African country."
"We are the third-largest tanning-salon chain in Florida," Yeltzer added.
Mkapa said he plans to raise funds to appeal the decision and blames poor preparation for his country's loss.
"We're in the right, but we simply didn't have the resources to assemble our case," Mkapa said. "Our government is dealing with an AIDS epidemic affecting an estimated 800,000 people and food shortages caused by this season's erratic rainfall. Also, I must admit, we didn't realize we might actually lose our name to a chain of tanning salons in Florida."
Lose they did, and changing the name of the former Tanzania is likely to cost millions of dollars, driving the country even further into debt.
"We're one of the poorest nations in the world," Mkapa said. "Changing all of our signs and official stationery is going to be expensive."
Tanzania Salons also filed a civil suit against the African country, demanding $85 million for court costs and damage done to the salon's brand.
"By using the name of my client's franchise, the United Republic of Tanzania did irreparable damage to the business' sparkling reputation," Knowles said. "As far as I know, their Tanzania doesn't have tanning salons. Still, my client wouldn't want his locations associated with a location where one in six children dies before the age of 5 as a consequence of poverty-related infectious disease and inadequate health-care provisions."
The former Tanzania will hold a referendum next week to vote on a new name for the country.
"We're considering a number of words in Swahili," Mkapa said. "So far, the people's top choices are Karibu, Rafiki, and Triscuit."