Monthly Archives: May 2008

Agriculture-led development requires efficient and sustainable seed supply system
This item discusses the difficulties of the small holder farmer to access seed within the context of agriculture-led development in Africa.

Marketing plan for Ethiopian cereal: a market development model that protects biodiversity and addresses access and benefit sharing issues

Shlomo Bachrach, a long-time Africa observer and the founder/editor of the East Africa Forum ( comments for CAS on the above article that was published on this week:

“Teff is an example of Ethiopia’s extraordinary variety of native germplasm.  For at least 30 years, specimens of many plants have been collected for preservation in gene banks on other continents. The discussions on protecting its native teff predate Ethiopia’s coffee trademark efforts and were entirely unrelated.  Ethiopia’s biodiversity specialists, not its intellectual property office, represented the country.

A 10-year agreement with Health and Performance Food International (HPFI), a Dutch company, was completed at the end of 2004. It prohibits the use of teff for pharma purposes without permission, requires written permission to transfer seeds to a third party, allows the use of teff only for specified non-traditional Ethiopian food and drink products and contains provisions for various payments to Ethiopia eventually including 5% of net profits.  Ethiopian researchers are to be involved, and results are to be shared with Ethiopian scientists.

HPFI was set up specifically to exploit the potential of teff outside of Ethiopia.  Teff has been grown commercially in the US for at least 20 years.  It was first grown by a single farmer, a former agricultural advisor in Ethiopia, to supply teff to the increasing number of Ethiopian restaurants in North America.  Teff is now grown elsewhere in the US.  There appears to be a small but increasing demand in the health food community, and probably a much larger market among those who are unable to process the gluten found in ordinary grains — a population estimated in the millions in the US alone.”

Kenyan coffee – higher incomes for small scale farmers using branding

These links were sent to me by Peter Bloch, who is Strategic IP & Technology Transfer Specialist for CAS-IP.  Peter said these articles highlight:

“Another step initiated by developing country producers to secure more equitable leverage in the marketplace.  Branding, trademarks and well designed marketing strategies are the foundation for such actions”

Traditional knowledge documentation; safeguard against biopiracy?
The article (Ashish Kothari, “Knowledge documentation: Kiss of death, or new lease of life?”) looks at the Indian government initiative to document all traditional knowledge on biodiversity and natural resources – to safeguard against biopiracy. Guat Hong Teh, IP Specialist from CAS-IP based in Malaysia, spotted the article and made the following comment:

After reading this news article, I spoke to Paul Quek of Bioversity who has been working for the past 10 years or so with the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) in East Malaysia on documenting TK of indigenous people there. I wanted to see if, closer to home, we have made any progress on this front and have experiences that we could share with the wider community. I was made to understand that documentation has been pioneered by SBC but the challenge now is to see where we could go from here. It is unclear, for instance, how one can deal with the following questions: (a) How can communities bargain effectively for use of their TK; (b) What is the regulatory/other mechanisms in place to facilitate this process, safeguard potential abuses, and encourage further research on TK so that these knowledge can be used and improved upon by both the indigenous community and scientists?; and (c) What guidelines/policies are available to research scientists working with communities to ensure appropriate attribution, sharing of benefits from use, and continuous development of existing knowledge?

Ethiopian coffee trademarks
Have a look at the above link for the latest in this long running saga, which involved a public battle between Starbucks and Oxfam over Ethiopia’s right to register trademarks for its premium coffees.  My research at the USPTO indicates that the Government of Ethiopia has been granted trademarks for Sidamo and Yirgacheffe but that Harrar (and the alternate, Harar) have not yet been registered; they have been “published for opposition”.  The blog has provided independent in depth coverage of the debate, which involves objections to the trademarking of geographical descriptors.  What is interesting about this latest report is that there is no indication of any trademark.  This may be one of the outcomes of a secret agreement that was made between Ethiopia and Starbucks (see and which was criticised by supporters of Ethiopia’s claims.

This story goes to the heart of a long standing discussion on the IP rights of developing countries.  While Ethiopia may not have prevailed entirely, their claims and the resulting publicity have drawn attention to the plight of subsistence farmers who are trying to secure a more equitable share of the huge revenues generated from the sale of their products in the west.

Shlomo Bachrach, a long-time Africa observer and the founder/editor of the East Africa Forum ( comments:

From a May 15 article in the Wall Street Journal, one can conclude that Ethiopia has decided to use an ‘umbrella logo’ for all of its coffees rather than focus on the two trademarks it has registered.  The trademarks will prevent others from misappropriating the names, but a promotional campaign to exploit them is apparently not now under consideration for reasons of cost.  Raising the country’s overall profile as a coffee producer is apparently finding favor as more effective in raising sales, as some had previously counseled Ethiopia.  Coffee marketing expert Market Cotter, who advises Kraft Foods (Maxwell House coffee) is quoted on the need for “marketing spending”, for which Ethiopia lacks the resources.  Crispin Reed, president of Brandhouse, Ethiopia’s UK-based packaging consultant, “hopes coffee retailers will voluntarily use the logos”, further suggesting that Ethiopia is unable to do much to promote either the logo or the trademarks at this time.  The relationships between the new logo, the agreements Ethiopia signed with roasters before the logo was made public, and the trademarks Ethiopia has secured are not clear.  The position of Starbucks confuses the picture:  “The world’s biggest coffee chain hasn’t decided how or if it will use the new logos, said Dub Hay, Starbucks’ senior vice president for coffee and procurement.”

The Wall Street Journal coverage is included on the East Africa Forum site at:

Climate change and the IP system – help or hindrance?
IP-watch posted an article on the 14th addressing the IP system in the context of climate change.  It’s referring to discussions that took place at the European Patent Forum earlier this month about the role the IP system plays in the battle against the effects of climate change.  No clear consensus was reached – which is not surprising given the breadth of arguments.  Reading a separate write-up from the Bangkok Climate Change talks last month delegates even discussed the possibility of enforcing compulsory licences to assist technology transfer of climate-related technologies see:

Patent policy (or lack of it) in biofuels development
This article on the green section of the site briefly looks at how patent policy could affect the development of biofuels.  There is mention of the possible clashes of ideology between “private” rights of patent holders when it comes to publicly funded research.

Micro-economics and intellectual property markets
I asked my colleague Sebastian Poehlmann, who is an economist, what he thought about this news item.  He made the following comments that I would like to share:

There are many forms of Intellectual Property each having different characteristics and potentials and there are many well-functioning markets where Intellectual Assets are exchanged publicly. Internet forums can be used as a classical example. There is demand for specific solutions or knowledge and there is supply of that knowledge and creativity. The price is non-monetary in most cases (“paying” is usually done by increasing the supplier’s reputation or exchanging favours) but we do also find examples where people pay others to solve their problems.
Other forms of IP, however, that are considered to be more of a defence item and where right-holders face a lot of uncertainty when dealing with their assets (enforceability, value, third-party rights, …), negotiations tend to be done secretly, ensuring that no bit of information is made public before more certainty is reached. To get Intellectual Assets, ideas, we thus still tend to rely on well-established markets, like the labour market, where we “buy” ideas-generating individuals or hire consultants.
Still we find that wherever demand and supply of a (properly-defined) good meet, a price will be found – but it does not necessarily happen in a public market and it is not obvious whether this is good or bad.

Indian government encouraging protection against IP violations
Short story about government policy amendment to enable the use of Geographical Indications to protect Indian agricultural IP

An “intellectual property grab”, or crucial research that might not surface without adequate IP protection?
This Washington Post article was responding the to release by the ETC Group ( of a report that talked of “the world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations … stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents on genes in plants that the companies will market as crops genetically engineered to withstand environmental stresses associated with climate change – including drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils, and more.”  The industry responded by saying that these plants would never be developed without patent protections, and a spokeswoman took the opportunity to highlight involvement in “public-good” projects.  With food security such a hot problem, the commentator is right to say the risks of PR disaster for seed companies are high right now – perhaps as a result the conditions for favourable public-private partnerships may also grow…