PRETORIA: The Department of Trade and Industry (dti) says it stands ready to defend the country's trade and intellectual property interests vigorously, as news reports that a firm in France was attempting to trademark "Rooibos" spread.
In a statement on Thursday, 21 February 2013, the department said it had noted reports that a French company was attempting to trademark "Rooibos" in France. Rooibos tea is made from the leaves of a unique shrub indigenous only to South Africa.
A number of Rooibos products in South Africa are already protected by the country's domestic trademark legislation.
The department noted that the registration of such a trademark in France could have a significant negative impact on South Africa's exports of Rooibos products to France.
"The dti 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," said Minister Rob Davies.
The department was co-operating with the local Rooibos industry to ensure that South Africa's trade interests were not unfairly compromised.
The department and 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.
"As in the 2005 case that took place in the United States, the dti will support the local industry to protect our mutual trade and economic interests," said Davies, referring to a similar battle with a Texas based company which trademarked rooibos in the US.
The company demanded royalties from any entity using the term. The issue was settled out of court.