Challenges of protecting certification marks: The case of mānuka honey

New Zealand's long-standing battle to secure sole ownership of the 'mānuka honey' trademark has come to an end with an unfavorable outcome. The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand announced on Monday that the country's mānuka beekeepers failed to meet the essential criteria for exclusive rights to the trademark. After nearly ten years of effort, New Zealand has been unsuccessful in preventing Australian beekeepers from utilizing the name and reaping the substantial financial benefits tied to it.


Igor Demcak

Details of the case

The mānuka honey trademark dispute revolves around the use and protection of the term "mānuka" in relation to honey produced in New Zealand. The dispute primarily involves New Zealand and certain overseas companies that produce and market honey claiming to be mānuka honey.

Mānuka honey is a highly prized and unique type of honey that originates from New Zealand. It is produced by bees that collect nectar from the flowers of the mānuka plant, scientifically known as Leptospermum scoparium. What sets mānuka honey apart from other varieties is its remarkable therapeutic properties and distinct characteristics. The exceptional properties of mānuka honey have sparked significant interest worldwide, leading to its increasing popularity, which prompted New Zealand honey producers to seek trademark protection for the term "mānuka."

New Zealand's Manuka Honey Appellation Society (MHAS) argued that the term "mānuka" should be protected as a geographical indication (GI) to ensure that only honey produced in New Zealand and meeting specific criteria can be labeled and marketed as mānuka honey. They contend that mānuka honey is a unique and valuable product closely tied to New Zealand's environment and indigenous Māori culture.

Conversely, some international honey producers have contested New Zealand's attempts to trademark the term "mānuka" and have challenged the proposed criteria for defining mānuka honey. They argue that mānuka is a common name for the plant and honey derived from it, and therefore, it should not be exclusively associated with New Zealand. These companies claim that they can produce honey with similar characteristics outside of New Zealand and should be allowed to label their products as mānuka honey.

In a decision of May 22nd, 2023, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand ruled that the term manuka honey cannot be registered as a certification mark in New Zealand. The Office concluded that MHAS has "fallen short of establishing the necessary distinctiveness, both inherent and acquired" to trademark the term manuka.


The outcome of the mānuka honey trademark dispute highlights the significance and challenges associated with registering certification marks. New Zealand's efforts to secure exclusive rights to the 'mānuka honey' trademark have been unsuccessful, as the Intellectual Property Office ruled that the necessary criteria were not met. The case underscores the complexities of establishing rights to certification marks tied to geographical indications and cultural heritage.

International honey producers challenged New Zealand's trademark efforts, arguing that the term 'mānuka' is a common name and should not be exclusively associated with New Zealand. As per the decision of the IPONZ, MHAS failed to provide evidence for the distinctiveness of the mānuka honey origin. This case, therefore, demonstrates the ongoing tension between protecting the integrity of unique products and accommodating the interests of international producers.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder & CEO of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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