New Zealand manuka honey producers have lost a long standing trademark battle in protecting the term ‘manuka’.
The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) announced the final decision in favour of Australian producers on Monday. IPONZ rejected New Zealand producers’ bid for a trademark, citing a lack of necessary distinctiveness, ‘both inherent and acquired,’ as the primary reason for the final ruling. (source)
The application was lodged in 2015, however, IPONZ’s ruling isn’t brand new news for New Zealand producers. In 2021, the producers also failed to secure the ‘manuka’ trademark in the United Kingdom.
Manuka honey is priced higher than any other types of honey due to its rarity. Only produced in regions of New Zealand and Australia, manuka honey is worth almost $300 million in exports from New Zealand alone.
Citing this court battle as ‘one of the most complex and long-running proceedings to have come before the Intellectual Property Office,’ IPONZ required trademark distinctiveness, not descriptiveness, to grant protection status to New Zealand honey producers.
However, New Zealand contests the term ‘manuka’ as unused by Australian producers until the sales of manuka honey took off in NZ. Derived from Māori lexicon, New Zealand claims ‘manuka’ as authentically belonging to New Zealand due to its indigenous origins.
New Zealand actively bans the import of honey products, unless products adhere to rules and regulations set by the government, such as if the product in question was made in New Zealand.
The Australian Manuka Honey association retaliated by opposing NZ’s trademark filing for the word ‘manuka’ in 2021.
Representative of Australian honey producers Ben McKee welcomes IPONZ’s ruling as he names the decision as a ‘sensible outcome’ which will ensure the fair trading of manuka honey for Australian beekeepers.
‘It also sees NZ following other precedents around the world that manuka honey is a descriptive term […] The fact that even authorities in New Zealand cannot find a way to support the trademark claims of NZ producers should, we hope, bring this legal dispute to an end once and for all.’
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