Government objects to French firm’s attempt to trademark ‘rooibos’

"The department of trade and industry together with the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, has raised its objection with the French Embassy in South Africa as well as with the European Commission Delegation in Pretoria. These engagements will be further intensified to seek an acceptable resolution to the matter," the department said in a statement on Thursday.

The Business Day reported earlier this month that the "rooibos industry is fighting to protect its intellectual property after a French company applied to register a number of trademarks incorporating the terms 'South African Rooibos' and 'Rooibos' last year.

The report added if the company was successful "it would own the exclusive rights to the names of any rooibos products sold in France, a key market in the European Union, which is the biggest export market for rooibos".

In a response, Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies on Thursday said, "The [department] stands ready to defend South Africa's trade and intellectual property interests vigorously. However, the issues in this particular matter will require an urgent assessment of the legal options to strengthen protection of the Rooibos name in South Africa.

This is not the first time a foreign firm has attempted to capture the intellectual property associated with Rooibos. As in the 2005 case that took place in the United States, the [department] will support the local industry to protect our mutual trade and economic interests."

Staple in SA
"As all South Africans know, Rooibos tea is made from the leaves of a unique shrub, indigenous only to South Africa. In addition, a number of Rooibos products in South Africa are already protected by South Africa's domestic trademark legislation. The registration of such a trademark in France could have a significant negative impact on South Africa's exports of Rooibos products to France, and the [department] is co-operating with the local Rooibos industry to ensure that South Africa's trade interests are not unfairly compromised," the department said.

A staple tea in many homes in South Africa, the health benefits of rooibos, long part of South African cultural lore, are only beginning to be properly verified through rapidly growing scientific research, reported the Mail & Guardian last year.

The tea, which is closer to a herbal infusion known as a tisane, has been linked to the prevention of certain types of cancer as well as heart disease. It grows in hardy bushes amid the Cape’s uniquely diverse fynbos floral kingdom.

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