A New Zealand government backed attempt to get a legal monopoly on manuka honey has been quashed by the United Kingdom’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
Reversing an interim decision to grant a certification trademark, the IPO reportedly made the common-sense observation that manuka honey is a description of a type of honey.
And it specifically rejected the proposition that the UK general public understands manuka honey to be exclusively from New Zealand.
“…[The public understanding of the term in the UK is that it describes honey from New Zealand and other geographical locations, in particular, Australia.”
New Zealand honey industry interests, backed by government funding, have been trying to get a trademark monopoly on manuka honey for some years.
Millions of dollars has been spent on legal fees supporting unsuccessful applications to trademark authorities in various countries including China and the USA as well as in the UK.
New Zealand’s Unique Manuka Factor (i.e. UMF) Honey Association has been deeply involved in these efforts, and in the setting up of various different entity’s to front its applications.
Initially, the Association’s efforts were fronted by an obscure entity known as the Manuka Honey Appellation Society.
More recently, the campaign has been re-branded as an indigenous rights issue, a ‘macron’ added to the word manuka, and the honey claimed as part of Maori culture and heritage.
Formally, a Manuka Charitable Trust has been established, and a web-site up at www.mct.nz
The trust has been busy rousing Maori to get on board, with campaign meetings held across the country. And NZ media outlets report that the chairman of the Manuka Charitable Trust has described the latest UK decision an insult to Maori people.
In reality however, and unlike Australia’s indigenous peoples, Maori have absolutely no tradition whatsoever as honey harvesters.
And the attempt to claim a Maori basis to the trademark campaign would be little more than pathetically comic, were it not for the significant resources New Zealand’s government and major NZ honey producers like Comvita have invested in it.
That investment means the campaign is likely to continue, with New Zealands own trademark office the next best hope for a successful application.
Progress with the application in New Zealand has been delayed both by the covid pandemic, and opposition from the Australian Manuka Honey Association.
However a home-town win next year, would not be surprising, even if lacking in credibility outside New Zealand.
And there remains the potential for an appeal against the UK decision within the IPO’s usual processes.
In the meantime, New Zealand continues its long-standing ban on imported honey in its own domestic market.
For more information go to
UK Intellectual Property Office
Australian Manuka Honey Association
Manuka Charitable Trust
Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association