Ethiopian coffee saga - latest instalment

Channel 4 News reports that Starbucks has ceased its opposition to the registration of SIDAMO and HARAR, the names of coffee beans, by Ethiopian coffee growers. A spokesman for Oxfam wasn’t happy though, saying:
"While it is useful that Starbucks has made that commitment, it still falls short of them acknowledging that Ethiopia owns these names".
The IPKat isn’t entirely happy – descriptive terms are more suited to geographical indications or, at a push, certification marks. He’s certainly not impressed by the Oxfam spokesman – it’s for the relevant trade mark office, and not Starbucks, to decide who ‘owns’ the name.
Ethiopian coffee saga - latest instalment Ethiopian coffee saga - latest instalment Reviewed by Anonymous on Sunday, February 18, 2007 Rating: 5


  1. Surely it doesn't matter whether Starbucks object or not to the trade mark applications. If they buy their "Sidamo" or "Harar" coffee beans then they will be able to describe them as such in their coffee shops without needing to pay anything more to the supplier, whether the trade marks are registered or not. If the supplier wants to raise their prices, or start complaining about trade mark infringement, I am sure that Starbucks can buy their coffee elsewhere.

    It seems to me the real issue is not about IP rights at all, but about whether suppliers are getting the right prices for their products. Given the prohibitively high import tariffs on roasted beans as compared to unroasted, and the much higher market price of roasted beans, Ethiopian suppliers are hobbled from the start. Nothing they do in attempts to register trade marks can affect this.

  2. Agreed on your second point. Got to point out though, even in the TM registration goes through, Starbucks would still be able to make use of the names on a descriptive use defence at the very least.


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