New Zealand – Australia Manuka honey rivalry creates sticky trade mark situation

australia or new zealand kangaroo road sign next to kiwi road sign

From Pavlova to Russell Crowe, Australia and New Zealand have long fought over the origins of a number of popular, globally-recognised icons. The fight over which country is the home of “real” Manuka honey has already been going on for several years but now the stakes have been raised.

Manuka honey has become increasingly popular over the last few years with its purported medicinal benefits. Its wound-healing properties and potential to fight bacteria that can become resistant to antibiotics has created a demand that has seen it sold for as much as $400 per kilogram.

New Zealand producers want to lay sole claim to the term “Manuka” which is the Māori word for the plant (Leptospermum scoparium) that the honey comes from. Manuka honey is also produced in New South Wales, Tasmania and southern Victoria.

The New Zealand Manuka Honey Appellation Society (MHAS) have sought to register the term MANUKA as a certification trade mark.  If China grants the application, New Zealand will effectively secure the China Manuka honey market for its producers, through exclusive ownership and control of the trade mark.  It may also allow the New Zealand producers the opportunity to increase their prices.

The MHAS have received support from the New Zealand government.  So far the Australian government has declined to intervene on behalf of local beekeepers who are fighting the New Zealanders’ claim to exclusive use of the term in China.

China has a “first-to-file” rule, which is different to Australia’s trade mark registration system. A first to file trade mark system grants rights to the person who first filed a trade mark application, even if another party can show prior use of the trade mark.

Australia does not follow the “first to file rule”, so even if you have not yet registered a trade mark, you might have some common law claim over it if you can show your business has been using it in the past.

If the Chinese application is successful it will give New Zealand a monopoly which will mean Australian producers will be prevented from exporting honey branded as Manuka to one of the biggest markets, which is potentially devastating for the Australian honey industry.

If you have any questions about trade mark applications or need advice regarding trade mark enforcement, please contact Geraldine Rimmer or Kellie Jukkola