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Thursday, 26 October 2006


The IPKat is grateful to John Halton for pointing out this piece from the Guardian about the attempt to Starbucks to stop Ethiopian coffee farmers from ‘copyrighting’ [sic] the names of three Ethiopian coffee bean types - Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe – as trade marks. Oxfam is not happy about this and argues that, as a result, Ethiopian farmers are being deprived of up to £47m of revenue.

The IPKat says that the temptation to oversimplify this issue is massive. Amongst some there is a misplaced belief that IP is a shortcut to wealth. The underlying assumption is that big evil Starbucks is maliciously blocking a revenue stream to the plucky deserving Ethiopian coffee farmers. Taking a step back though, the IPKat has serious concerns about the suitability of the Ethiopian application. Taking a look at the USPTO Register, it appears that what we have is an application by the Ethiopian Government for the name of two coffee beans (unless the IPKat is misreading the USPTO Register, Yirgacheffe has been successfully registered), i.e. an application for two descriptive terms by an entity which isn’t truly the origin of the coffee. Yes, there may be distribution problems concerning the profits that can be made by selling cups of coffee containing Ethiopian beans, but the way to address that is to tackle the distribution problem directly, rather than subverting the principles of IP, which are meant to allow all traders to compete fairly, and to assume that an unjustified grant to IP rights will solve all the world’s problems.


John H said...

hanks for the mention. ;-)

I agree with your criticisms of this trade mark application. Interesting though to think how this links in with the earlier discussion concerning Cumberland sausage and other geographical designations of origin. Is there a power imbalance here, with rich western countries able to secure protected designations while countries from the Global South find themselves unable to do so? While the terms in question might not be appropriate for trade mark protection, could the Ethiopians seek protection as a designated origin (or is this only available to producers within the EU?)

I don't know the answer to that question - just wondering aloud...

John H said...

Oops, that should read "Thanks for the mention...". Hey-ho.

Guy said...

The innaccurate reporting on the USPTO trade mark applications is appalling. The Times even refers to it as a patent dispute.
In fact the Ethiopian Government has applied to register three words as trade marks (US trademarks) SIDAMO 78589307. HARAR 78589319, & YIRGACHEFFE 78589325. Not an opposition but a lengthy "Letter of Protest" has been submitted to the USPTO examiner by a US coffee traders' association alleging the words are generic. Many firms are members of this association but a well known name among the members has been chosen by OXFAM to take the blame.

Guy said...

In the Community Trade Mark Office HARAR and YIRGAFFE have been successfully registered by the Ethiopian Government for coffee. SIDAMO is still pending.

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