Daily Archives: May 23, 2008

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 http://poorfarmer.blogspot.com/2007/12/support-centre-agreement-in-black-box.html) 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 (www.eastafricaforum.net) 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: