Australian beekeepers are calling for an end to ongoing trademark disputes with New Zealand producers over manuka honey which continues to threaten their livelihoods.
The main point:
- Australian beekeepers have filed a lawsuit against attempts by a New Zealand producer to trademark the term manuka
- New Zealand producers argue that the plants and honey bees produce belong to them
- Manuka honey is produced from the nectar of the leptospermum plant, a variety native to Australia and New Zealand
This is the first time the Australian Manuka Honey Association (AMHA) has submitted evidence to defend the use of the term manuka in Australian honey products.
“We are not a big association and we defend the livelihoods of beekeepers,” said AMHA chairman Paul Callander.
A New Zealand producer has already claimed the term apply for intellectual property rights in a number of countries, including the United Kingdom where they are accepted.
The New Zealand government has also provided a $ 6 million fund to secure rights in China.
AMHA believes that descriptive words should not become trademarks, which incur huge costs for their members.
“It’s an obstacle on all of our finances to keep going.”
An ‘interesting’ case
The Manuka Honey Appellation Society Incorporated (MHAS) argues that mānuka is a Marori word, unique in New Zealand, and wants its trademark to be similar to France’s managed champagne trademark.
But Australian beekeepers say they don’t use the word with a macron.
Manuka director Michael Howes Australia said anglicised versions had been widely used in Australia since the 1840s.
Manuka honey is produced from the nectar of the leptospermum plant, a variety native to Australia and New Zealand.
“The word has been widely used to represent plant species in Australia and New Zealand,” said Howes.
“I think we have the right to be able to use the term manuka especially when we qualify as Australian manuka, which distinguishes it from New Zealand origin.”
The evidence presented in the appeal against the UK and New Zealand cases includes historical references to prove the term manuka has long been used throughout Australia.
It also includes a result a five-year study proving Australian medicinal honey is equal to or better than New Zealand honey.
Mr Callander believes the evidence is compelling.
“Country [have] already rejected New Zealand’s claims, without [the AMHA] make a claim, “he said.
“If we can work it out, we can all go on with business and see how we can collaborate rather than fight the legal battle in descriptive terms.”
Livelihoods are threatened
Mr Howes said the results could boost the reputation of Australia’s manuka honey industry a few years ago.
“This is definitely a cause for concern because it means it can affect our work, our income,” he said.
“It will take years to improve marketing and branding so people realize what they are buying is superior to or on par with New Zealand products.”
The results of the appeal are expected early next year.
Mr Callander said if the appeal goes away, AMHA is ready to appeal again.
“This can be sustainable [legal case] for years, “he said.
“It’s just a waste of money doing this in court rather than being able to work together to look at global markets and how we can operate together.”