African medicinal tea at risk of 'patent' by French company (40179)

Feb. 26 (GIN) – It’s been called “the new pomegranate juice” blessed with antioxidants and benefits for cardiovascular, diabetes, liver and respiratory ailments. Rooibos tea, grown only in a small area in the Western Cape province of South, has been a popular drink in Southern Africa for ages.

Which is why it came as a shock to learn that a French company was petitioning to own the name “Rooibos Tea”. “The Dept. of Trade and Industry stands ready to defend South Africa’s trade and intellectual property interests vigorously,” Trade Minister Rob Davies said.

French corporate bids to own foreign names include an attempted patent claim on “Darjeeling,” the name of an Indian tea, which the French company had used for a lingerie line.

This is the second patent fight for Rooibos. A Texas firm, Burke International, registered the name “Rooibos” in 2004 with the US Patent and Trademark Office. When the tea became popular, Burke demanded that users either pay fees for use of the name, or cease its use. Burke’s claim to the name Rooibos was legally denied in 2005.

Copyright claims have even been launched against the national anthem. According to City Press of South Africa, “there are 61 claimants on royalties for Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrica or any derivative of the name, including the National Anthem of South Africa.” But Owen Dean of Intellectual Property Watch, refutes the claims.

“At best such claimants can only claim rights in their particular versions or arrangements of Nkosi (provided they are original).”

Meanwhile, the South African Rooibos Council (SARC) has reportedly applied to register ROOIBOS as a Certification Mark under the South African Trade Marks Act, which registration is intended to serve as the basis for international protection.