A French winemaker's threat of legal action against a Nelson vineyard for using the word kiwi in its branding has sparked a warning to other exporters not to take the rights to their national symbol for granted.

Kahurangi Estate owner Greg Day said he would no longer be able to sell his "Kiwi White" label in Sweden or anywhere else in Europe for fear of being sued.

"We can't use something that is an icon and only associated with a New Zealand bird in Europe because some French company has registered the name," he said.

LaCheteau has registered the brand name, Kiwi Cuvee, in Europe, effectively prohibiting its use elsewhere..

On advice from his patent attorney, Day decided yesterday that he would not fight the French company and try to register his wine in Europe even though Kiwi White was already selling in Sweden before LaCheteau registered the name.

"There's an argument that because our wine was there first, we have what they call prior use," said Day. "But there is no guarantee we would win."

Day said he could not afford to take on any more legal costs after spending a lot of time and money researching the legality behind using the term.

The Kiwi White label chardonnay had great potential in Sweden where the first 1100 cases sold out within two months and the Government-run liquor retailer was in negotiations for a much larger order.

The issue was a case of "the pot calling the kettle black" since the French had been diligent about protecting the names of national products such as Champagne.

Julian Moore, marketing manager at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, said exporters should take a lesson from Day's experience and realise that being a Kiwi did not automatically entitle them to use the name.

Exporters had to make sure trademarks were protected before they entered a new market.

"Don't assume that because you're from New Zealand you have an automatic right to use the word kiwi," said Moore. "Certainly, if you do want to use the word kiwi then get out there now and protect it in the market you are going into."

Trademarks that had not been protected included kiwifruit, which producers had had to register as Zespri to distinguish New Zealand fruit from others. Then there was the shoe polish brand Kiwi, which was manufactured in Australia..

New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said the country's export industry, which was worth $460 million for the year to October, was not in any danger of losing sales in Europe due to the trademark.

"There has been plenty of opportunity for many years to use the term kiwi on wines in Europe. So I don't see it as a major issue."

In fact, Europeans tended not to think New Zealand when they heard the word kiwi, they tended to think fruit. However, Gregan said LaCheteau had most probably chosen the name Kiwi Cuvee to trade on the country's reputation as a stellar producer of sauvignon blanc.


NAME GAMES


* Local winemakers can no longer use the word kiwi in Europe.

* The French will not let anyone else use Champagne as a name.

* Italians want the sole rights to the Parmigiano-Reggiano brand.

* Greeks think feta should be theirs alone.