Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Ethiopian coffee licensing: what is the real story?


PIIPA is Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors, Inc. It describes itself as "a global nonprofit resource for emerging economies and public interest organizations in developing countries seeking expertise in intellectual property matters to promote health, agriculture, biodiversity, science, culture, and the environment". The second in PIIPA's series of Pro Bono IP Case Studies has now been circulated by email. It reads as follows:
"Client: Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office 
Location: Ethiopia 
Background: Fifteen million Ethiopians depend on the coffee industry and Ethiopian coffee sells for premium prices around the world. But the people producing the beans often live in extreme poverty and many are not aware of the value of their product and work.

IP Issue: Inadequate trademark and licensing program and controls that capture the intangible value of their specialty coffees.

Solution: Training in the use and methods of trademark and licensing and providing assistance in filing applications.

Result: Ethiopian coffee growers now have more control of overseas distribution chains and export prices of their products. The increased export income flows back down the supply chain to the farmers and other coffee workers helping create a viable economic livelihood and producing a widespread poverty alleviating effect. PIIPA also provided pro bono IP services to defend the growers against an attempt by Starbucks to trademark Ethiopian coffee varieties in the U.S. This led to an agreement between the two parties that recognized Ethiopian ownership of the coffee names. Through these efforts the deep gap between the profits of coffee farmers and the profits of international coffee companies are being bridged".
This Afro-IP contributor would like to know a little more about this case study, not least because over the past couple of years he has rather received the impression that quite a few people are claiming credit for "solving the Ethiopian coffee problem". He notices that there's no mention of PIIPA's involvement in "Ethiopia and the Starbucks Story", published in the WIPO Magazine here or in earlier Afro-IP posts, including "New branding scheme for Ethiopian coffees" here.  Also, take a look at the bright and cheerful logos at the top of this post: this blogger is a regular purchaser of Yirgacheffe beans from Starbucks, but has yet to see either the Ethiopian Fine Coffee logo or the Yirgacheffee logo on any packet.  Are the Ethiopians deriving income from licensing logos that aren't even being used?

What Afro Leo would like to know is (i) whether anyone is undertaking a reliable and objective history of the Ethiopian coffee brand licensing programme(s) which gives due credit to all participants in it and (ii) whether the income from the licensing scheme is trickling down to the poverty-stricken coffee producers in any meaningful manner.  Can readers please advise?

1 comment:

City girl said...

An article on the Trademarked Ethiopian fine Coffee indicates that there was "intellectual dishonesty' on the effects of the initiative http://www.ethiomedia.com/broad/3395.html

I wounder if there is any truth to this.