Companies urged to register cannabis trademarks as pot takes root

Global companies who plan to diversify or launch their cannabis products have been advised to identify their consumer base, create their brand and file a trademark ahead of the competition. 

"The opportunities to create new brands for cannabis-based products are endless, and so too should the requisite protection of intellectual property protection be in place," said Donvay Wegierski, director at Werksmans Attorneys. 

There’s a growing movement worldwide to legalise the use of cannabis, which has sparked a strong commercial interest from companies selling cannabis-based products.  

The Constitutional Court in September legalised the possession and use of marijuana by adults for personal consumption in South Africa in their own residences. The dealing or distribution of marijuana is still illegal. 

Canada in October became the first country in the G-7 to permit the use and distribution of cannabis, while nine states in the US and Washington DC also allow it for recreational purposes, generating soaring commercial interest and a spike in the share price of North American cannabis companies.

In South Africa, people can register their trademarks with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission or make use of a trademark attorney. 

Wegierski advised people registering a trademark that it should not be contrary to public policy or be offensive, and it should not be descriptive of the kind of quality or other characteristics of the product. 

And internationally, competition is fierce. 

"Earlier this year nearly 1 700 trade mark applications and registrations could be found on the Canadian Trade Mark Database covering cannabis," said Wegierski. 

Wegierski expects the requirement for "use" to secure trade mark registration to be removed from Canadian Trade Mark Law in June 2019, which will encourage even more trade mark filings.   

This week, JSE-listed beverages group Distell agreed to distribute hemp-infused beer, Poison City. Brewing has seen demand exceed capacity since it started retailing the lager in major liquor outlets in September.

Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant which contains no mind-altering substances. 

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