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Moves Made To Safeguard 'Manuka' Name

April 13, 2006

Moves Made To Safeguard 'Manuka' Name

An application has been made to secure the 'manuka' name after concerns were raised by manuka honey exporters that the word 'manuka' was legally unprotected in Europe and could fall into the wrong hands.

Experience shows that New Zealand exporters need to be vigilant in the area of trademark protection – in a recent example a French wine maker has registered the name 'Kiwi' which means New Zealand wineries can not use the word in France without the threat of legal action.

According to Sue Irwin Ironside, partner at intellectual property lawyers Baldwins, while manuka as a word would be exceptionally difficult to protect in New Zealand as it is in general use, that is not the case in other countries.

"In Europe, for example, manuka would be an uncommon name and could be registered by a company that is unconnected to New Zealand – even though manuka is exclusive to New Zealand."

When the vulnerability of the name was noted by natural health products company Comvita, it immediately applied to register the name 'manuka' in the European Union as a precautionary move.

Comvita chief executive Brett Hewlett says after seeing that other interests have registered or tried to register 'manuka' elsewhere in the world we decided to move quickly.

"It's important to ensure that registrations for manuka don't fall into the wrong hands as that could result in legitimate exporters being sued for trademark infringement."

National Beekeepers Association executive officer Jim Edwards says he is pleased to see moves are being made to protect the name for manuka products on behalf of all New Zealand beekeepers.

"We must protect the reputation of New Zealand honey internationally and within our home market."

New Zealand Honey Packers and Exporters Association chairman Allen McCaw says it is a wise move to protect the brand or name overseas to ensure New Zealand doesn't lose out to offshore interests.

"As long as there are no restrictive practices that prevent any New Zealand honey company using the name 'manuka' then we are comfortable."

Hewlett is clear about the intention: "It is not, and never will be, Comvita's intention to obstruct any New Zealand-owned manuka product brands from selling in the EU. Healthy competition in such a vast market can only serve to continue to build credibility for the therapeutic properties of our unique and indigenous manuka honey."

But Hewlett says in essence the New Zealand honey industry needs to get moving on this one.

"We have a holding position in Europe but this is an industry problem that should be dealt with collectively."

ENDS

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