Marmite fight gets High Court date

By Ben Chapman-Smith

A legal stoush over imported Marmite will go to the High Court in February. Photo / Glenn Taylor
A legal stoush over imported Marmite will go to the High Court in February. Photo / Glenn Taylor

A battle between Sanitarium and a Christchurch man who imported 2000 jars of UK Marmite into New Zealand will head to the High Court early next year.

Sanitarium stopped making Marmite in March after its Christchurch factory was closed because of quake-damage. A Facebook update yesterday suggested Marmite could be back on shelves soon.

In August, importer and British ex-pat Rob Savage attempted to import a shipment of UK-made yeast under the Ma'amite label.

The $12,000 batch was seized by customs after Sanitarium claimed selling it here would be a breach of copyright.

Savage said the Ma'amite label, created to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, was spelt differently to Sanitarium's product and there was no breach of copyright.

Sanitarium's stance was that although spelt differently, 'Ma'amite' phonetically sounded the same.

The two parties failed to reach agreement over the matter and Sanitarium filed legal papers to have the trade mark infringement case heard in court and the shipment destroyed.

The High Court in Christchurch has now set a date for the summary judgment application to be heard on February 26.

In a statement on its website, Sanitarium said that under the Trade Marks Act 2002, imported products found to have infringed a trade mark can be destroyed to prevent them from being sold.

But it said the matter could be "quickly and easily" settled out of court without the product going to waste.

"To prevent trade mark infringements in the future, Sanitarium is happy for Mr Savage to continue importing UK products and selling them here under a different name."

UK Marmite is currently sold in New Zealand under the 'Our Mate' trademark, made by Unilever.

"Like other well-known brands, the trade mark 'Marmite' is protected under law for the companies which have the exclusive rights to use it in countries or 'territories' around the world," Sanitarium said.

"Selling the UK, or South African, spread with the name Marmite here infringes trade mark law, as New Zealand's own Marmite made by Sanitarium in Christchurch, has been trade marked since 1921."

Sanitarium said it had made an open offer to Savage with two options - that he re-label the jars or sell them as 'Ma'amite', on a one-off basis, with the profits donated to a Christchurch charity.

Savage did not accept that offer and said Sanitarium's offers were "not at all reasonable".

Meanwhile, Sanitarium said on its Marmite Facebook page yesterday that "good progress" was being made at its Christchurch factory.

"Testing and commissioning of our production line will occur throughout January, and once that's done we can finally begin the lengthy process of making Marmite!

"Remember, though, that making Marmite is not a straight-forward process; we need to make stock from various yeast supplies and then blend these together to get the unique Marmite flavour that Kiwis love. Only then can we pack Marmite for sale."

Sanitarium said once it had confirmed its equipment was operating correctly, a back-on-shelf date for Marmite could be announced.

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