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Legal Issues Presented in Case Starbucks and Ethiopia Dispute Coffee Trademark Issues

By:   •  October 23, 2018  •  Research Paper  •  1,307 Words (6 Pages)  •  259 Views

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Legal issues presented in case Starbucks and Ethiopia Dispute Coffee Trademark Issues

It is reported that there are a few legal disputes about coffee trademark right between Starbucks and Ethiopia. Basically, a trade mark is understood as a way of distinguishing the goods or services of a business from those of other businesses. It provides restrictive rights to commercial use, licensing and trademarking privileges. In Ethiopia’s case, the Ethiopia government decided to launch the Ethiopia Coffee Trademarking and Licensing Initiative as well as register Intellectual Property Rights to differentiate their three typical coffee brand Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffee in worldwide market and achieve higher global return.

Though a geographical indication was considered as one of the best ways to register each Ethiopia coffee by the regions in the beginning, the government considered the forms of Intellectual Property protection to secure the Ethiopia coffee commercial origin. It is obviously that trademarking provides the government the legal right to accomplish, license and benefit the trademarked names of their coffee from other traders. Additionally, trademark helps the government produce greater quantities of specialty coffees from all over the country and control over the distribution of its product more effectively. As a result, it would increase the revenue and benefit the farmers by exporting more goods and raising the selling prices. Eventually, it would increase the return and the lives of local coffee farmers.

Reportedly, the United States Patent and Trademark Office had approved the application to register Yirgacheffee, but the National Coffee Association rejected the applications to trademark Harrar and Sidamo. The reason was that the names were too generic and ill-eligible for registration under United States trademark law. At the same time, Starbucks Coffee Corporation was also objected to recognize Ethiopia's trademark rights to the Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffee. They disputed that it would be legally complicated and Ethiopian coffee might be priced out of the market. For this reason, Starbucks denied signing a royalty-free trademark licensing agreement and suggested to protect the Ethiopian coffee names based on a certification trademark linked to the region of production and compliance with established quality standards. According to Development charity Oxfam, Starbucks unfairly intended to take the Ethiopian trademark bid in the country through the US National Coffee Association. Oxfam advised Starbucks for an open negotiation instead of taking an alternate agreement on Ethiopia. Under the pressure of public criticism, Starbucks reached to a mutual licensing agreement with Ethiopian government and acknowledged to respect Ethiopia’s trademark right to their registered coffee names Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffee. After all, the government successfully established the Ethiopian Coffee Trademarking and Licensing Initiative to register their trademark names like Sidamo in foreign countries. Furthermore, the initiative helped to persuade other coffee companies and retailers to sign trademark license agreements to perceive Ethiopia’s ownership of Ethiopia’s coffee names.

The individual parties’ arguments, with Explanation’s to the arguments

In the first stages Trademark applications for three Ethiopian Heritage Coffees were filled with the United State patents and Trademark Office by the federal Republic of Ethiopia, Namely Harar, Sidamo & Yirgacheffee in 2005 which suffered a conflict with the patent holder i.e. Starbucks Coffee Company Namely for the registration of Sidamo Varity. Ethiopia Formally requested Starbucks to withdraw its trademark application so that their application could move forward. But this was opposed by NCA and corporation by arguing that the names for the Coffees were generic and thus not entitled for to trademark registration and proposed that they cannot be registered trademarks. This caused the case public and to was appleade by the Ethiopian Government to the tribunal. It is advised to revert to the laws that govern the TRIP’s Agreements and GIs this is because both the Countries i.e. Ethiopia as Well as the United states of America have signed the accord and are required to adapt the accords which are specifically defined under Article 22.1 of the Trips Agreement which further Defines GI as “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic location” , according to this wide definition WTO member countries would have to legally recognise a Varieties of GI’s and would nictitate them provide a basic level of protection for IPRs which would further include all legal means for a member countries to Enforce and assert the rights of its IRPs , for Example GIs May be used on a product label provided it does not cause confusion concerning the origins of the product.

This article 22.1 forms the heart of the Ethiopia’s Strategic decision/Argument for establishing the trademark for its Heritage Coffees and not Seek a GI, this was because the distinct flavours of Ethiopia’s Coffees were already established as IRPs as the Flavour of the crop is an “” essential attribute of the area” where it is cultivated and thus ensuring that the “Specific quality, reputation or other characteristics is attributed to the area”

As well as Farming for Coffee in Ethiopia has been carried out for over period of hundred years  is a Part of the traditional Knowledge of Ethiopians , which is Further Defined BY WIPO  as “ Tradition based Literary, Artistic or scientific works; performances; inventions ; scientific discoveries ;designs; marks, names and symbols; undisclosed information; and all other traditional based innovations and creations resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific Fields…… Categories of traditional knowledge could include agricultural knowledge; scientific knowledge;………” thus establishing the fact that Ethiopian Coffee Farmers are a group of people that can be distinguished in a group of people and can be termed as a group of indigenous people residing in the particular area.


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