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.
Thursday, 26 October 2006
Posted by Unknown at 11:42:00 am