Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association

Latest news from UMFHA, the owners of the UMF trademark:

UMFHA set to file Manuka patent

It is believed that the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association are about to file for a patent, which identifies the "signature compounds" in Manuka honey. According to a recent open publication by UMFHA, this will "Add value to Manuka, NZ Inc and the UMFHA through Intellectual Property (IP)."

According to UMFHA, the IP generated from their work includes:

  • "Identification of novel compounds specific to Manuka."
  • "Strengthening NZ honey market credibility globally."
  • "Exclusion of counterfeit or adulterated honey, from NZ or elsewhere."
  • "Protecting the value in the NZ Manuka Positioning."
  • "Potentially new bioactivity from these new compounds."
  • "Adding incremental value to Manuka honey producers should new bioactivity be found."

Why would UMFHA bother with a patent?

The role of the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association has weekend considerably over the last 12 months:

  • The latest report from Peter Molan (the true relationship between NPA and MG Levels), identifies Methylglyoxal as the unique compound. 
  • EU labelling legislation clearly states that only the unique compound found within a product can be measured and stated front of pack. 
  • UK FSA and Trading standards are now starting to challenge Manuka labelling and claims.
  • NZ Interim Labelling Guidelines suggest a move away from "generic" rating systems to one that focuses on the unique compound. 

As a result of this market swing away from the UMF trademark, it is clear that the association are looking to find other ways to protect their organisation.

So, can you patent naturally occurring substances, or not?

The United States Patent and TradeMark office issued new guidelines on this very topic back in March 2014 and as a result previous standards for patenting naturally occurring compounds have been tightened up. 

The document makes clear that no longer is the process of identification, isolation and purification of compounds within a natural product itself, seen as enough modification to make a case for patentability. 

The story is the same in Europe and this combined with 10 years worth of global prior art, will make any patent application extremely challengeable. 

So what is best for the industry?

The answer is not difficult, although extremely controversial for the companies generating income from trademarks or selling Manuka based on the Total Activity level (Peroxide level+Non Peroxide Level).

A move to marketing Manuka on the Methylglyoxal level would fix the issue overnight. Other existing  low-cost  indicators / tests can of course be used to further protect the Manuka brand, however the wheel does not need reinventing this time.