Protection of Rooibos could boost economic growth

The recent ruling to protect the rooibos trademark under Geographical Indicators (GI) framework of South Africa’s intellectual property (IP) laws is a major step in protecting South African products and promoting economic growth and competitiveness.

The reciprocal agreement between South Africa and the European Union sees South Africa’s rooibos and the EU’s feta cheese get GI protection and gives rooibos producers ownership and authority over the name.

“Governments have an obligation to protect their nations’ assets and the Department of Trade and Industry’s (Dti) efforts in securing GI for rooibos could provide real impetus for other intrinsically local products, says De Villiers. “By rights, a GI for rooibos should be a fairly simple undertaking. It’s grown in a very specific and limited part of the Western Cape and nowhere else in the world.

“So an attempt, for example, by the French company Compagnie de Trucy to register rooibos as French was mischievous, to say the least. We were delighted that the Trade and Industry Minister, Mr Rob Davies scrutinised the issue from all angles and then acted boldly.”

Gazetting a proposal to protect rooibos and names such as Rooibosch, Rooibostee, Rooitee and Red Bush under the Merchandise Marks Act now protects this globally unique product under domestic law. This enables the Dti to seek international protection usiWIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation), explains De Villiers.

“This could help set a precedent for the protection of other products from a specific, localised area, such as tea and Karoo lamb. GI’s are used to protect products specific to a region, which is why champagne may only be labelled as such if it comes from the Champagne area of France, and Darjeeling tea from a specific area of India, and Colombian Coffee from Colombia.

Other crucial benefits include rooibos’ use as a powerful tool for promoting regional tourism and for protecting the biodiversity of the area, which is especially important considering the fynbos region’s fragile ecosystem.

It means, in short, that SA’s rooibos tea producer can take ownership of the rooibos name and that name may only be used on products they produce and which are endorsed by them, concludes De Villiers.