Last month the UK Trade Mark Registry granted the New Zealand’s Manuka Honey Appellation Society Incorporated(*) a certification mark for the term “Manuka honey”. A certification mark is a specific type of trade mark which provides a guarantee that the goods or services bearing the mark meet a certain defined standard or possess a particular characteristic.
In this case, the certification mark will mean that buyers in the UK will be guaranteed that Manuka honey from New Zealand contains certain properties, such as antibacterial qualities, while Manuka honey produced in Australia will not carry this same guarantee. Australian honey makers would need to obtain approval from their New Zealand counterpart’s before they would be able to use the term, which seems unlikely given New Zealand’s efforts to secure the name for themselves.
Manuka honey is produced from bees feeding on the pollen of the Leptospermum scoparium plant; known as “Manuka” in New Zealand, and “tea tree” in Australia. The Manuka honey export industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year due to the extraordinary rise in the popularity of the highly valued product.
The Australian Manuka Honey Association is challenging the UK’s decision to award a trade mark for “Manuka honey” to only New Zealand producers, saying the island state of Tasmania in Australia was the first in the world to make the distinctive honey. It claims that Manuka honey has been produced in Australia since the 1800s and that Australia is now home to more than 80 species of Manuka, compared to just one in New Zealand.
However, in the registry’s decision, Hearing Officer Carol Bennett, said: “The term Manuka is a Māori word… 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.”
The absence of a certification mark until now has contributed to the problem of counterfeit Manuka honey arriving in key markets of the UK and parts of Asia. Next, the UK application will progress through the rest of the registration procedure and it is believed that the New Zealand Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association will continue to obtain further certification trade marks in other territories including China, USA and EU.
In conclusion, the UK decision could be very costly for Australia’s honey industry if the certification mark stands, especially if it is accepted by other trade mark authorities around the world. Australian Manuka honey producers have confirmed that they will formally oppose the decision. As Manuka honey is also produced in Australia, there are grounds on which the UK decision could be contested. It will be interesting what the UK Trade Mark Registry ultimately decides.
Amelia Skelding 28 March 2018
*The Manuka Honey Appellation Society Incorporated is a society established by New Zealand’s Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMF).