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    BusinessScholar says Ethiopia’s trademarked coffees remain in shadows

    Scholar says Ethiopia’s trademarked coffees remain in shadows

    Date:

    Spending a week on a speaking tour in Ethiopia, Justin Hughes (Prof), a senior legal scholar who spent years studying Intellectual Property (IP) rights matters indicated that despite its huge potential, Ethiopia has done little to promote its trademarked coffee verities globally. 

    At end of last week, during a public lecture he gave at the American Center, Hughes told The Reporter that having a globally recognized coffee tradenames, Ethiopia have done little to promote and get reputations for its geographic name resources.

    The professor recalls the 2005 dispute between Starbucks and the government of Ethiopia on three Ethiopian coffee names: Yirgachefe, Sidama and Harar. He said Ethiopia wanted to have a regular trademark in the US. “I am not sure Ethiopia pursued the optimal policy at the time because Starbucks stopped selling Ethiopia labeled coffees,” he said. Before the dispute that led to the recognition of the three Ethiopian coffee names in the US, Starbucks was freely buying and blending Ethiopian coffee varieties under its brand.

    The disputes, however, resulted in the recognition of Ethiopia for its Harar, Sidama and Yirgachefe specialty coffee varieties in the US markets. Nonetheless, according to Hughes that didn’t pay off as it did for Colombian coffee names.

    “Surveys indicated that back in 1960s an average American did not know Colombian coffee,” he recalls. “But today, most Americans know Colombian coffee because of the investment put into the trade names. That really paid off. But, many countries either they don’t have the budget or they don’t want to spend that kind of money to promote their geographical name,” he explained. In addition to spending millions to promote tradenames, countries need to have potential coffee producers or partners.

    According to Hughes, trademarks require investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to make known to the markets that the geographic name is from that particular country. Based on that, one of the predicaments to Ethiopian coffee names is the lack of proper investment to promote the coffee trade names.

    The geographical indication of a product mostly speaks to the quality and special nature of that product from a specific area. According to the professor, for the protection of these geographic names, Ethiopia needs systems which are efficient and do not cost too much.  When asked whether centralized commodity markets such as the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) is necessary to do that, he replied: “You have got to be very careful that you don’t end up spending too much money and waste too much resources in the centralized control systems. Often times, it is counterproductive”.

    Studying coffee, cocoa and Nollywood (the thriving Nigerian film industry), Hughes had spent years trying to learn how the rules and regulations and the institutional make up to work with IP laws. He also studied relevant Ethiopian laws and the country’s constitution and found out that IP is not clearly mentioned in the constitution.

    Patents, copy rights and trademarks and geographic name are the most frequently employed IP terms and infringement of copy rights is a widely recognized breach of law when it comes to movies and music productions. Information circulated by the US embassy indicated that in 2016 alone, an estimated 981 million pirated movies and TV shows were downloaded. The film and television industry in the US provide jobs for two million people and local businesses that support the industry receive USD 43 billion annually. In Ethiopia as well, the entertainment industry suffers from piracy and copy rights infringement despite the fact that a copy right protection law is in place.

    Having served in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations, currently, Hughes teaches IP and international trade courses at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Apart from teaching law and advising governments, back in the 1990s, the Professor is recognized for providing volunteer works in democracy development in Latin America, West Africa and the Balkans. During his stay in Ethiopia, Hughes has visited and spoke with communities of the Addis Ababa and Hawassa universities, held a workshop for the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office and spent time visiting coffee farmers’ cooperatives in Oromia and agricultural research institutes and the like before he took off back to the US. 

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