Ethiopia’s GI Bill

Ethiopia is in the process of ratifying a Geographical Indication Bill to protect indigenous products.  According to Addis Fortune

“Among these location-branded products are Tigray and Masha white honey, Harar senga (bulls fattened to be butchered), Dendi garlic, Limu coffee, Assosa mangos, Ankober sunflowers, and Debre Brehan brandy.” 

 (Thanks to Shlomo Bachrach (http://www.eastafricaforum.net/) for the link) 

The article describes an ongoing project intended to identify products which might benefit from GI protected branding.  This looks like a good idea and might result in increased incomes for producers.  But the value of IP protection – whether a trademark or a GI – will eventually be determined by the ability of the owner to enforce the grant of rights. 

Corporate trademark owners such as Volkswagen, Levi Strauss and Starbucks invest in protecting their global brands by employing investigators to ferret out black market products and other infringements of their IP.  One of the best examples of a GI that is backed up by heavyweight enforcement is owned by Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma (association of Parma Ham® producers, CPP).  In a well-known 2003 case, CPP successfully sued ASDA: 

“UK supermarket Asda has lost a battle to sell authentic Parma ham under the Parma brand, when the meat is sliced and pre-packed in Britain.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3043283.stm 

CPP has protected production methodology, origin, packaging AND how the ham is sliced! 

The CPP is a powerful producer group because its members sell large quantities of Parma Ham, generating sufficient revenues to protect the GI.  If indeed Ethiopian producers procure GIs for products such as Ankober sunflowers, will sales volume generate sufficient revenues to adequately police usage of the name?  Even well known global brands such as Kiwi (shoe polish) are not policed in Africa; although Kiwi polish is widely available, it is all counterfeit.  Presumably Sara Lee Corporation (which acquired a number of UK brands from Reckitt and Coleman) cannot justify the cost of enforcement in Africa. 

 The Ethiopian coffee trademarking program was well conceived and generated a high level of attention from the international press.  But there is still little evidence that this initiative resulted in any income gains for producers.  A number of NGOs provide IP training in developing countries, and it might be advisable for them to position IP as one tool of many in the market development toolbox.  Without sustainable marketing plans and enforcement programs, these IP-centric initiatives are unlikely to be successful. 

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

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