SOARING sales of Bobby the Bear have sparked an international counterfeit investigation and claims that the sweet-smelling toy from Tasmania's North-East is one of Asia's best-known images.
Bridestowe, at Nabowla, sells a range of products based on its lavender crop from the historic 107-hectare farm, but it now seems to be a victim of its own success.
Estate owner Robert Ravens said yesterday he had just authorised a Melbourne-based legal firm to pursue a range of businesses for breach of copyright and theft of intellectual property.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission is also investigating possible corporate law breaches.
Mr Ravens said the problem was that Bobby the Bear - a soft toy filled with lavender and wheat made on the estate - had become a victim of its own popularity.
Mr Ravens said the bears were about 70 per cent Tasmanian content, based on value, and hugely popular with visitors, especially from China, that toured the estate.
About 70,000 genuine bears have been sold since July, but he estimated about 250,000 bears had been bought from various websites since then, with the vast majority claiming to be genuine, but were actually fakes.
``The public rhetoric is that it is a good problem to have,'' Mr Ravens said.
``The private rhetoric is that it consumes an awful lot of time [trying to stop the illegal trade].
``There is only so much lavender [produced at the farm] and the bear has a pretty healthy appetite for lavender.
``And we want to keep it on the edge of exclusive.''
He said the popularity of the farm visits and lavender sales, and especially the bears, meant promotion across the internet and social media had made Bobby more recognisable in China than kangaroos, koalas or other famous Australian images.
Bobby comes with instructions for heating in a microwave to produce a lavender aroma.