Proposed trademark regulation a ‘milestone’ for the Rooibos industry

The publication of proposed regulations to protect the name Rooibos is an important first step in achieving international protection for the iconic South African plant and preventing misuse of the generic name…

The publication of proposed regulations to protect the name Rooibos is an important first step in achieving international protection for the iconic South African plant and preventing misuse of the generic name, says the South African Rooibos Council.

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), a member of the Department of Trade and Industry published on 12 July 2013 published a notice for public comment in the Government Gazette which proposes regulations to protect the use of the name in terms of the Merchandise Marks Act.

This development is a culmination of the Rooibos Council’s years of research, collating information and lobbying. If approved it will be the first regulation to protect Rooibos for South Africa. The Government Gazette notice coincided with an attempt by a second French company to register Rooibos as part of their trademark.

According to Martin Bergh, a director of the Rooibos Council, the objectives of the regulation are twofold.

South Africa can only apply for international protection against overseas companies attempting to register or copyright the name Rooibos if it is protected locally in the country of origin. The other is to maintain the integrity of the brand by preventing marketers making misleading claims or insinuating that Rooibos is a substantial ingredient in a product if it is not.

“This is the start of a process which will ultimately enable us to apply for Geographical Indicator status, much like Champagne, Darjeeling Tea and Colombian Coffee. This will prevent future instances of overseas companies attempting to trademark the generic brand name for their own exclusive commercial gain,” he says.

Other indigenous products which have been grappling with similar issues of trademark protection are Karoo Lamb and Honeybush.

Dry rooibos and extracts, liquors and infusions of the plant are used in a variety of products including herbal teas, fruit juices and other foodstuffs as well as health and beauty products. It is a popular ingredient in food products because it is a good carrier of flavours and has well-publicised health benefits. Its anti-ageing potential and proven skin protection and anti-allergenic characteristics are amongst the properties which make it attractive to cosmetic manufacturers.

“The Rooibos Council’s mandate is to grow the industry, so these regulations are not intended in any way to inhibit companies from using Rooibos in their products. What we do want to prevent is spurious or misleading claims that products contain Rooibos and by implication deliver its benefits if they do not,” explains Bergh.

The notice clearly states holders of prior trademarks in Rooibos will not be affected by the notice. In terms of the proposed regulations any manufacturer may use the name Rooibos provided they comply with the rules of use as stipulated. If it is comprised of more than 50% Rooibos it can be described as a Rooibos product. If not, it can only claim to contain Rooibos and declaring the actual Rooibos contents on the label.

“The South African Rooibos industry has long been asking for protection of the name Rooibos and these proposed regulations are the first milestone in achieving that. The regulations also seek to ensure that consumers are able to make an informed choice when buying products containing Rooibos.”

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