The Trademark fight for Manuka Honey

Manuka Honey, produced from the nectar of the manuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium), is the subject of a trademark debate between the two countries from which it originates, New Zealand and Australia. Both countries believe that they should have exclusive rights to the name and neither seem to be willing to give up the fight.

This superfood, which is favoured by many celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow, is extremely popular in China. According to the BBC, in 2014, China imported 1,500 tonnes of honey from New Zealand, which was for the most part, Manuka Honey. China’s increase in demand for this type of honey follows their growing concerns over the quality of homegrown products.  

The Manuka honey business is extremely valuable, hence why neither Australia or New Zealand are willing to give up the name to other. According to Bloomberg, over the last 15 months, Comvita, a top New Zealand Manuka Honey producer has made a profit of NZ$18.5 million ($13.5 million).

Although the New Zealand honey is more commercially known, the Aussies believe that they also have a claim to the name since the Manuka tree is also grown on their land. Furthermore, according to the executive director of the Australian Honeybee Industry Council, Trevor Weatherhead, the word ‘Manuka’ has Tasmanian origins.  However, the New Zealand Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) Honey Association  believes that only Kiwi honey should be allowed to use the name since “Manuka” is a Maori word. They even filed a trademark application for it last year in order to protect their brand.

We shall have to wait to see which country will be successful in this dispute.

The action that New Zealand and Australia would like to take to protect their Manuka Honey  is along the lines of Geographical Indication protection (sui generis intellectual property rights), whereby only goods produced in that geographical area are legally allowed to use the geographical location in their name. Some famous examples are Parma Ham, Cheddar cheese, Scotch Whisky and Champagne.

However, they are both trying to protect a traditional name which does not include the name of the geographical location and they are not the first to attempt this.

Halloumi is a cheese made from a combination of goat’s and sheep’s milk that originates from the greek island of Cyprus. However, in 2013 when the Republic of Cyprus applied for European trademarks for both HALLOUMI and XAΛΛOYMI,specifically for cheese, milk and milk products, their application was rejected on the grounds that their product was not distinct enough since their trademark was describing a speciality cheese of the region. Despite the initial setback, the EU  then stepped forward to protect the GI of the cheese and has published an application for the name. However, at this moment in time the Greek cheese is at risk of infringement with no legal rights to act upon it meaning that anyone can produce a cheese and sell it as “Halloumi”.

The best way to protect your company’s reputation, brand value and profits in today’s global marketplace is by registering a trademark and gaining trademark enforcement rights. However, just having the trademark is not enough. You would also need to police your market for potential infringements and then be prepared to act on them when they do arise.

For advice and more information on searching, acquiring, registering and enforcing Trademarks please visit our website,