Australian honey producers have welcomed a New Zealand trademark win that will allow them to continue to use the name manuka honey.
New Zealand producers had been trying since 2015 to stop any other country from using the word manuka, claiming it’s a Maori word and the product is distinctive to New Zealand.
But in a 171-page ruling released on Monday the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) found manuka honey was a descriptive term and the application failed to meet trademark requirements.
The office described the case as a “trans-Tasman tussle of extraordinary proportions”, and “one of the most complex and long running” to have come before it.
The Manuka Honey Appellation society had wanted New Zealand producers to gain exclusive use of the word manuka, but the judgement found the word had also been used in the English language in both New Zealand and Australia.
The manuka plant is also native to both countries.
But while the application to trademark the name failed, the ruling by New Zealand’s assistant commissioner for trademarks said there was considerable sympathy for the applicant the Manuka Honey Appellation society and its members.
“In large part, this is because of the cultural significance of manuka honey, and because there does not appear to have been widespread use of the term ‘manuka honey’ by Australian honey producers until the New Zealand trade in manuka honey took off,” the ruling said.
The Australian Manuka Honey Association who had fought the application has welcomed the judgement saying the “sensible decision paves the way to accelerate global sales”.
“It’s been many, many years since we’ve been fighting this certification trademark issue and to have a win in New Zealand is particularly gratifying,” Paul Callander from the association told AAP.
“They’ve (IPONZ) stuck with the law and agreed with the rest of the world that we rightfully are allowed to use the term manuka … It’s a big decision for us,” he said.
In 2021 the UK Intellectual Property Office, rejected a bid by the Manuka Honey Appellation Society for exclusive use of the manuka name.
It would have stopped Australian producers using the word “manuka” when exporting their product to the UK and Europe.
The Manuka Charitable Trust which fights to protect Maori rights, said it was disappointed but undeterred by the ruling.
“We remain resolute in protecting our reo Maori (language) and the precious taonga (treasure) and today’s ruling in no way deters us,” said the trust’s Pita Tipene.
“It has made us more determined to protect what is ours on behalf of all New Zealanders and consumers who value authenticity.”
“We have solidarity as we seek to protect what is a precious taonga and will continue to protect what is ours,” he added.
The international manuka honey market is forecast to be worth around $1.27 billion in annual trade by 2027.
(Australian Associated Press)