Trademark madness

Oxfam Australia: Starbucks opposes Ethiopia’s plan to trademark specialty coffee names that could bring farmers an estimated $116 million annually: “Starbucks opposes Ethiopia’s plan to trademark specialty coffee names that could bring farmers an estimated $116 million annually”

Ethiopia attempts to trademark the names of its renowned specialty coffees that giant’s like Starbucks use to get premium prices in their stores. Starbucks intervenes and blocks the application. These names belong to the people of Ethiopa – Starbucks has no right.

I hope that Oxfam puts together a good online action for this – I’m sure they’d get a lot of support.

  • >>These names belong to the people of Ethiopa.

    No they don’t. They belong to the people of the world. Trademarks are for brand names. These aren’t brand names, they are generic names for varieties of beans. Other countries grow these beans too; should Uganda also pay licensing fees to Ethiopia? If this went through, Ethiopia could demand they did.

    It’s natural to take the side of the Ethiopians versus a big nasty corporation like Starbucks and I’m sure Starbucks’ motives are far from pure, but I also don’t think intellectual property law should be used in this way. More on this here:

    GY: added link directly through to the relevant entry.

  • Thanks for your thought Caitlin – I hadn’t thought of things from the angle that you present, and I think your perspective has a lot of merit.

    I have often talked on this blog in the past about patent and trademark abuse, and I do see your point. I’ve also had discussions with my partner about the whole “champagne” thing – and you’re right to point out this is the same principle here.

    I suppose my objection is about Starbucks being the one blocking the application. If the application had been made on the grounds you state, I think I would agree with the decision more. But Starbucks is making money off the back of the Ethiopian bean varieties and not paying a fair and reasonable price. As far as “citizens of the world” are concerned, Starbucks has consistently abused its position at the expense of Ethiopian farmers (among others).

    The fact that the farmers, and the government that represents them, are taking steps to protect their interests, however flawed the methods, is understandable. What you say is true – this probably isn’t the most appropriate method of doing so. But the WTO has obviously failed them. The market economy has obviously failed them. The Fair Trade movement is making some headway (and Starbucks, to their credit, has helped in this regard with their own Fair Trade blends), but still has a long way to go.

    So they have attempted to use another method to protect themselves, in a way that other countries – like France and Greece as you mention – have done to protect their interests. It is a flawed system, absolutely. But Starbucks, who profits off of these farmers, is stepping over a line IMO attempting to block this particular application.

    I also can’t help but think of all those pharmacos and other companies that have trademarked or patented local and indigenous knowledge for drugs or products and gotten away with it. Is it wrong for the Ethiopian people to try and protect what others might want to take for themselves?

    I agree with you in principle. In practice, however, perhaps it’s a bit more grey?

  • Absolutely agreed – it’s not black and white. I too question Starbuck’s motives and I don’t blame the Ethiopians for trying. Starbucks’ objection seemed to be that they had previously laid claim over the names (I think they applied for trademarks but then withdrew the application). That is even worse. I don’t think the names should be trademarked but if they have to be, I would prefer the Ethiopians were the ones to benefit.

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