Written by Mark Eiffe | May 26, 2023
A group of New Zealand premium honey producers have lost another bid to trademark the word ‘MANUKA’ after the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) dealt a blow to the Manuka Honey Appellation Society’s (MHAS) endeavours to have the word reserved exclusively for honey produced by bees feeding from the Leptospermum scoparium plant which MHAS asserts grows natively in New Zealand.
IPONZ held that the Australian Manuka Honey Association’s opposition to the trade mark filing on the grounds that the plant also grows natively in Australia (where it is commonly known as ‘tea tree’) had merit and ultimately found in favour of the Australian group.
The long-running fight, described by IPONZ as “a trans-Tasman tussle of extraordinary proportions over trademark rights for manuka honey”, stretches back to 2016 when Australian producers first moved to block their New Zealand counterparts.
The honey they are fighting over sells for up to AUD$500 per kilogram.
While the word’ Manuka’ is a Maori word which has cultural significance to Maori and Non-Maori New Zealanders, the fact that producers from outside New Zealand, notably Australia, have successfully opposed registration of the word as a trademark in relation to honey production previously in both the EU and the UK belies the fact that ‘MANUKA’ has become a generic and descriptive term for honey with anti bacterial properties.
The ongoing battle between the honey producers from the two countries is interesting as it straddles a number of areas of trade mark law, notably the national examiner’s power to refuse registration on the Absolute grounds due to bad faith, geographic origin and cultural norms /it is contrary to public policy. However, unfortunately again for the New Zealand producers, trade marks which consist exclusively of signs or indications which have become customary in the current language or in the bona fide and established practices of the trade will be refused registration and this is what the powers that be in New Zealand affirmed on this occasion.
Similar stipulations apply to trade mark applications here in Ireland.
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