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Aussies challenge Kiwis’ attempt to trademark manuka honey

Manuka honey is a powerful brand, but it may not be able to be trademarked if it's decided that "manuka" is a descriptive term.

New Zealanders have been busy bees trying to trademark manuka honey and prevent Australia from selling the product. However, the trademark office could decide that "manuka" is a descriptive word and thus not able to be protected.

New Zealand races to trademark manuka honey 

New Zealand and Australia are preparing for a trademark battle over honey, but not just any honey – manuka honey. 

Around the world, manuka honey has long been considered a speciality good from New Zealand and an expensive one at that. According to the New Zealand government, the country's manuka honey is the most expensive in the world and gains a significant premium in comparison to other honey products. 

New Zealand is known for its manuka honey.
New Zealand is known for its manuka honey.

Why is it so special? Manuka honey has been shown to have special antibacterial, non-peroxide properties that is said to be better at killing bacteria than other varieties. Plus, the health benefits have been praised by celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Novak Djokovich, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But New Zealand's stronghold in the manuka honey market is being threatened by Australian honey makers who want to make manuka honey out of a similar plant species they have historically referred to as "bush jelly." 

The Wall Street Journal reports that a number of New Zealand honey makers are trying to protect their reputation as the world's manuka honey producers by applying for trademark at the New Zealand Intellectual Property office.

Will "manuka" be considered a descriptive word?

Here's where the situation gets sticky.  Manuka is a name of a plant and is thus a descriptive word. Australia honey makers plan to challenge the trademark application using the legal argument that a descriptive word cannot be trademarked.

Trademark seekers should carefully consider if their trade mark is a commonly-used, descriptive term.

IP Australia states that trademark seekers should carefully consider if their trade mark is a commonly-used, descriptive term, phrase or image. If you trade mark a descriptive word alone, like "strawberry" for drinks or "warm" for heaters, you may struggle to obtain a trademark.

However, IP Australia writes that combining a descriptive word with a nondescriptive word could be a way around the obstacle.

Still, New Zealand seems to have its heart set on obtaining rights to "manuka honey." We will just have to wait and see if they are successful in claiming the word "manuka" as their own or if they will be denied for using a descriptive word.

Consult with Alder IP to get expert legal advice about your trademark application and the words you'd like to protect.