South Africa Objects to French Company’s Trademark Application for “Rooibos”

by T+B Blog Team on February 27, 2013

If you’re a tea drinker, you might be familiar with the name “rooibos.” Although often referred to as a tea, rooibos is actually an infusion made from the leaves of a shrub grown only in a small area in the region of the Western Cape province of South Africa. Derived from the Afrikaner word meaning “red bush,” the beverage is known for its red color and slightly sweet taste.

Now rooibos is the subject of a trademark fight. Last year, French firm Compagnie de Trucy filed trademark registrations for rooibos and “South African Rooibos.” Europe is the biggest export market for rooibos, which makes the French company’s trademark filings a big issue for the South African product. South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), raised an objection with the French Embassy in South Africa and the Pretoria-based European Commission. “The DTI stands ready to defend South Africa’s trade and intellectual property interests vigorously,” a DTI minister said in a statement.

Here’s a copy of one of the records from the Corsearch platform:

Rooibos Record

South Africa does not have a legal framework to protect its indigenous products in international markets, which makes it impossible to get a Geographical Indication in the European Union. This isn’t the first time rooibos has been the subject of a trademark fight. Back in 1994, when the product was not as widely known as it is today, a U.S.-based company, Burke International, registered rooibos with the USPTO. In 2005, the American Herbal Products Association, among others fought Burke’s trademark in the courts and the name ended up being transferred back to the public domain.

Some argue that rooibos is a generic term, while others think it should qualify for a Geographical Indication – what do you think?


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