An unidentified French firm’s attempt to trademark Rooibos could have a “significant negative impact” on South Africa’s exports of Rooibos products to France, Sapa reported on Friday, citing South Africa’s department of trade and industry (DTI).

“The DTI stands ready to defend South Africa’s trade and intellectual property interests vigorously,” the minister at the DTI, Rob Davies, said in a statement.

“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.”

Rooibos tea originates from South Africa and is the country’s popular beverage. Rooibos is an Afrikaner word that means “red bush” after the bush from whose leaves the tea is made. The scientific name of rooibos is aspalathus linearis and it is indigenous only to the plains of South Africa.

While the Dutch settlers in South Africa gave it its name, rooibos tea has been used by Africans for hundreds of years, both for medicinal reasons and because of its pleasant, slightly sweet and nutlike flavour.

It was a originally used by the indigenous Koisan tribe. As their numbers dwindled, it was almost overlooked until Karl Humberg, a botanist, rediscovered it in the late 18th century.

It enjoyed widespread popularity after that and more recently has been extensively studied to uncover its health benefits.

Davies said it was not the first time that a foreign company tried to “capture the intellectual property associated with Rooibos”.

“The DTI will support the local industry to protect our mutual trade and economic interests.”

Sapa reported the DTI was working with the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries and had raised its objection with the French Embassy in South Africa and the European Commission Delegation in Pretoria.

“These engagements will be further intensified to seek an acceptable resolution to the matter,” he added.


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