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A sticky situation: How NZ lost trademark rights to Manuka Honey

22 October 2023

Manuka Honey is a staple product for health and well-being. It can be drizzled over porridge, in wellness tea or even in skin care products. In fact, the lucrative product can fetch up to $5000 for a 230g jar.

What makes Manuka Honey so special?

Manuka Honey comes from the Manuka tree, a white flowered tree, more commonly known as Tea Tree. When collecting pollen from this tree, bees create a special kind of honey famous for its antibacterial and health properties.

To New Zealand, the Manuka name carries strong cultural significance. Manuka is a M?ori word and an indigenous treasure. The M?ori have long used the Manuka plant for various purposes, including fabrication of objects, medical treatments and for cosmetic reasons.

In order to protect the culturally significant product, New Zealand producers represented by the Manuka Honey Appellation Society want the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) to give “Manuka Honey” a certification trademark for New Zealand.

What is a Certification Trademark?

A certification trademark is a type of trademark that is used to indicate to consumers that goods bearing the mark possess a particular characteristic. In this case, it would restrict “Manuka Honey” to only be sourced from New Zealand from the Manuka plant.

Australian Competitors

New Zealand is not the only country selling Manuka Honey. The plant can also be found in Australia. Unsurprisingly, Australia is one of New Zealand’s main rivals when it comes to distributing the product. However, whilst in New Zealand Manuka Honey only comes from the Manuka Plant, in Australia the product can come from any plant in the species.

For more than a decade, the two countries have been in dispute over the use of the Manuka name. With New Zealand arguing it is an indigenous treasure, uniquely associated with its own honey production and Australia arguing that Manuka honey is simply honey from the Manuka tree.

Court Proceedings

To get approval of a Certification Trademark in New Zealand, the mark must distinguish the goods of one producer from those of another. The distinctiveness test asks whether the average consumer considers the mark in question as a normal way of designating characteristics for the goods in question. IPONZ concluded that the average consumer would not find that Manuka honey is distinctive to New Zealand. This is likely because the name Manuka Honey is used extensively in both countries even before the application was even lodged.

However, the fight is not over. New Zealand over the next couple of years could consider alternative certification trademarks for their unique Manuka Honey. 

Contact Us for Trade Mark Protection

Trademark law is the best area of IP law that offers protection, strategy, and leverage. Here at IP Partnership Lawyers, our team of solicitors are experts in Trademark registrations in both Australia and internationally, and we also assist clients with Trademark oppositions and the removal of Trademarks. Please see contact us to discuss further.


This blog provides general information and is not intended as legal advice specific to your circumstances. Please feel free to seek our professional legal advice if you have any questions, concerns and/or queries.

Isabelle Tozer