Manuka honey is a unique type of honey that originates from New Zealand and certain areas of Australia. It is produced by bees that pollinate the flowers of the manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium).
Due to its potential health benefits, Manuka honey has captured significant attention and is much valued on a global scale.
On the trademark side, New Zealand and Australia have been fighting over the use of the Manuka name for over 10 years.
According to a recent ruling of the IP office of New Zealand, the term 'Manuka' is merely descriptive and not distinctive. New Zealand honey producers have finally faced a setback in their efforts to secure exclusive rights to the term of Manuka honey.
The dispute began in 2015 when Manuka Honey Appellation Society (MHAS) attempted to register "Manuka honey" as a certification trademark, aiming to reserve the use of the term solely for honey produced within New Zealand's borders.
Unlike a standard trademark, a certification trademark certifies that the goods or services adhere to specific characteristics or standards which distinguish them from others.
Accompanying regulations which specify the criteria to be met by goods and services are crucial to obtain certification trademark status. In this case, MHAS proposed regulations that required the honey to be produced in New Zealand and possess specific characteristics from the leptospermum scoparium plant.
The Australian Manuka Honey Association opposed the application by arguing that the term "Manuka honey" was rather descriptive than distinctive.
The court deems that the Manuka mark does not meet the distinctiveness requirement and could potentially confuse consumers. The term "Manuka" is a Mauri word adopted into the English language, evidence indicated that the plant was native to both Australia and New Zealand, and the term "Manuka honey" described honey derived from this plant.
MHAS argued that the term "Manuka Honey" held significance in Mauri culture and should be recognized as distinctive due to its association with Mauri principles. However, the Assistant Commissioner ruled that these factors did not override the legal requirements for trademark protection.
After evaluating how the average consumers would consider the term, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand concluded that "Manuka honey" was widely used by both countries for honey products before the application was filed, and accordingly it is insufficiently distinctive.
The Office said in its ruling that this was "one of the most complex and long-running proceedings".
While the decision is disappointing for MHAS, the possibility of an appeal remains open. Australia, on the other side, is delighted by the favorable outcome and has issued a press release saying that they are planning to develop international market of manuka honey to meeting the rising market needs.
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