New Zealand loses mānuka honey trademark case as IPO rules in favor of Australian producers
23 May 2023 --- In what the Australian Manuka Honey Association has addressed as “a common sense outcome,” the New Zealand intellectual property office (IPO) has ruled that the country does not hold an exclusive claim to the mānuka honey classification.
The ruling follows on previous trademark victories in the UK and EU jurisdictions.
Furthermore, it opens the door to plans for Australia to grow international sales in response to rising demand, according to the countries’ Manuka Honey Association.
Manuka, a descriptive term
The intellectual property authority found the term “mānuka” to be simply descriptive and not to have any distinctiveness to qualify as a trademark.
“We are delighted with the judgment handed down by the IPO, which confirms what we have been saying since New Zealand producers began this legal process nearly eight years ago – our product has a long history of being recognized as Manuka honey, it is produced like the New Zealand product is and it also offers the sought-after antimicrobial properties that consumers around the world value so highly,” says Ben McKee, Australia Manuka Honey Association chairman.
“Indeed, there is research to show Australian honey has stronger antimicrobial benefits and a better taste than the New Zealand offering,” he highlights.
Mānuka honey is made from bees that pollinate the manuka tree, which can be found in New Zealand and Australia.
“This decision is a sensible outcome that ensures Aussie beekeepers can fairly market their produce. It also sees New Zealand following another precedent worldwide that mānuka honey is a descriptive term,” McKee underscores.
Nonetheless, while Australian producers will be able to market their products as mānuka, this will not end the massive honey fraud affecting the industry. Last month, Copa-Cogeca launched a campaign to tackle widespread honey fraud in the EU, mobilizing beekeepers to call on the European Commission to enforce country-of-origin labeling.
This closely follows EC investigations revealing that 46% of collected samples of honey imports are suspected of being adulterated with syrups.
Focusing on the benefits
The benefits of the honey, according to the New Zealand Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association, include helping with wound healing, sore throats, gut health, lung health, antibiotic resistance, skin health and alleviating chemotherapy side effects, among others.
“The fact that even authorities in New Zealand cannot find a way to support the trademark claims of the country’s producers should, we hope, bring this legal dispute to an end once and for all,” says McKee.
He notes that it was a particular group of New Zealand producers, under the umbrella of the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society (MHAS), who “had spearheaded the trademark campaign” and that there are other New Zealand beekeepers and industry members who were prepared to work more collaboratively with the Australian industry.
“The opportunities for Australian Mānuka honey are huge. Hopefully, we can now focus on promoting this wonderful medicinal honey to the world rather than fighting over naming rights,” McKee concludes.
Edited by Marc Cervera
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