Battle over manuka honey IP rights continues
Intellectual Property June 7, 2018 10:30 pm By Cat Fredenburgh

The Australian Manuka Honey Association has introduced a new standard for verifying authentic, Australian manuka honey, as the group continues its battle with New Zealand over intellectual property rights to the expensive superfood.

Honey carrying the AMHA Mark of Authenticity must be “pure, natural Manuka honey, produced entirely in Australia, and be tested by an independent, approved laboratory to ensure it meets minimum standards of naturally occurring methylglyoxal (MGO), dihydroxyacetone (DHA), and leptosperin,” the AMHA said.

The group said more retailers were moving towards an MGO rating system, including Holland and Barrett, a leading health food retailer in the UK, where AMHA is currently doing battle with New Zealand over rights to use the “manuka honey” mark.

In December, the New Zealand Manuka Honey Appellation Society won approval from the UK trade mark registry for a certification mark for the term “manuka honey”.

Certification marks guarantee goods bearing the mark have particular traits, which are set out by the owner of the mark.

Made from bees that feed on the pollen of the Leptospermum scoparium plant, known as tea tree in Australia and manuka in New Zealand, manuka honey is worth hundreds of millions of dollars in exports.

The officer for the UK trade mark registry said manuka, which is a Maori word, refers to a specific variety of the plant from New Zealand.

“Although the plant Leptospermum scoparium is grown in areas outside of New Zealand, it is known by different ‘common’ names in those territories. Therefore, it is accepted that the term ‘manuka’ would be seen as designating a specific plant variety grown in New Zealand,” officer Carol Bennett said.

The AMHA said it would formally appeal the UK body’s decision, saying “it is obvious that [the New Zealand Manuka Honey Appellation Society] plan to dictate that only Manuka honey produced in New Zealand could use the mark.”

The AMHA said it it would pursue all avenues to oppose the mark, including by potentially arguing that it’s not distinctive and should be free for all manuka producers to use; that the mark is generic; that granting the mark would create an unfair monopoly; and that the term “manuka” was already established in trade.

The group says Australia has more than 80 species of manuka, in comparison to New Zealand, which has only one, and that one Leptospermum species used in New Zealand to make Manuka migrated from Australia, likely from Tasmania, where it claims the honey was first produced.

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Cat Fredenburgh

Cat Fredenburgh has been covering legal news for 12 years. She was previously Editor-in-Chief at US legal news publication Law360. She is the Co-Founder of Lawyerly.