Thursday 25 November 2010


Coffee branding in Ethiopia: PIIPA restates the position

We all need a little shake-up
from time to time, says Afro IP
Recently, in "Ethiopia Coffee Branding: what is the real story?" (here), Afro Leo drew the attention of his readers to a circular from PIIPA which contained the second in its series of Pro Bono IP Case Studies. Having done so, the post continued thus:
"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, ...  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?"
No reader did advise, much to Afro Leo's disappointment -- but someone from PIIPA has at least been reading the weblog and has published this note:
"PIIPA's case studies series is intended to present examples of how PIIPA's global IP Corps helps emerging economies. In our November 2010 case study, we described the Ethiopian fine coffee trademarking and licensing initiative. To clarify, the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) was not a PIIPA client, and PIIPA's involvement in the initiative was limited. Light Years IP, an organization unrelated to PIIPA, was the technical adviser to the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office in conceiving and implementing the inititiative. With pro bono assistance from Arnold & Porter Lightyears IP worked directly with the EIPO in achieving successful results for Ethiopian coffee growers.

We apologize to our readers and to Light Years IP for the confusion. To set the record straight about this very important story, we are happy to present a summary prepared by Lightyears IP (see below)".
The new summary is welcomed, even though it doesn't specifically deal with all of Afro Leo's issues, since it's at least a step in the right direction.  It goes like this:


The Ethiopian Fine Coffee Trademarking and Licensing Initiative represented a significant effort by the Government of Ethiopia through the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) to benefit Ethiopia's coffee farmers by securing greater control over the distribution of Ethiopia's fine coffees.
  • The Initiative was designed in 2003-4 by Ron Layton, CEO of Light Years IP (LYIP), to achieve "Ethiopian ownership of fine coffee brands through trademark registration and establishment of a network of distributors selling and promoting the fine coffees under license from Ethiopia".
  • Getachew Mengistie, Director General of EIPO until 2008, provided the Ethiopian leadership of the project.  Among other things, he took up the project and engaged Ethiopian fine coffee stakeholders in the Initiative.  Former Ethiopian ambassadors to the US, Mr. Kassahun Ayele and Dr. Samuel Assefa also provided leadership and engaged with Starbucks and other coffee distributors.
  • EIPO and LYIP implemented the Initiative, in an excellent collaboration. Implementation of the Project required a global pro bono trademark registration effort for the fine coffee brands under the Initiative as well as legal assistance in licensing negotiations and other matters. Ethiopia's principal legal advisor was Arnold & Porter LLP, which provided substantial pro bono services.
  • Trademark registration for the top three Ethiopian fine coffee brands, Harar, Yirgacheffe and Sidamo has been secured in the US, Canada, EU member countries as a Community Trademark, China, and Saudi Arabia, while applications are pending in other major markets including Australia, Brazil, India and South Africa.  The registered status of the Yirgacheffe and Sidamo marks in Japan is on appeal.
  • There was significant industry opposition to the Initiative.  Initiated by LYIP, a successful campaign was launched to counter industry opposition that ultimately persuaded many companies, including Starbucks, to become licensees.  To support the Ethiopian Government and stakeholders, the campaign received enthusiastic help from Students for Fair Trade, Catholic World Relief, the Lutheran Church, Oxfam America and members of the US and UK legislatures.
  • The Initiative provided Ethiopia with acknowledgment of its legitimate authority to license its exporters and foreign market distributors of the three coffee brands.   The licensing agreement was promoted in key countries around the world by EIPO and LYIP, securing over 100 foreign licensees worldwide
  • By early 2007, the Ethiopian fine coffee exporters and farmers' cooperatives unions found their new negotiating power enabled them to negotiate fine coffee price increases, moving the price structure away from being based exclusively on the NY "C" commodity market index.
  • EIPO and LYIP conducted more than a dozen awareness workshops and training sessions to build Ethiopian capacity to manage the Initiative.
  • In the financial year to June 2008, the increase in export price was the main factor in Ethiopia earning $101 million in additional coffee export income, as reported by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
  • Currently, two additional fine coffee brands, Limu and Nekemte, have been added to the trademark registration effort.
  • The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) named Ethiopia Portrait Country at its 2008 annual conference in Minneapolis, MN, where the Initiative was showcased and promoted.
A special promotional documentary on the Initiative is on LIght Years IP website and one of a number of press interviews are available at,
Afro Leo is gratified and thanks PIIPA for its corrective summary.



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