Ethiopian Trademark

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Check out this article today in The Christian Science Monitor

Perhaps it’s my relatively small amount of knowledge in the area, but I’m having a very hard time coming up with an opinion on this subject. As far as I can tell, there are a couple of good reasons, and a couple of bad, for the trademarking of Yirgacheffe coffees. Of course, the “Yirgacheffe” trademark was approved last August, but it is still being vigorously debated.

1. More money for Ethiopian coffee means more money for coffee farmers and for nationwide vital services like food, water, schools, and hospitals, which is desperately needed in one of the poorest countries on Earth. If the article is correct, Ethiopia could earn $88 million per year, which is a lot of money in that region. However, the amount of money that will actually make it to the people, rather than what will be eaten by bureaucracy or wealthy land owners, is a real problem.

2. Trademarking could effectively price the region out of the commodities market. In conjunction with positive Coop movements and what is a burgeoning Cup of Excellence type competition, this could lead to truly spectacular coffees. Of course, not all coffee for the Yirgacheffe region will be or will even have the ability to be spectacular, but with higher initial profit, there is more wiggle room. The flip side of that, of course, is complacency. If Starbucks is going to pay everyone in the region a guaranteed $1.41 a pound rather than the $0.17 they get now, there’s no reason to worry about higher quality for the immediate future. The article makes a point to mention that strict quality controls must be enforced to maintain Ethiopia’s reputation as a premier coffee producer.

3. There is an argument out there that, rather than Ethiopia trying to protect themselves from trademark infringement, they are simply trying to milk a bit more money out of their exporters. This very well may be true, but so what? I’m willing to pay $15 for a pound of Ethiopian coffee. More if it’s spectacular. Another 10 cents isn’t going to make a big difference. Call it an exploitation tax.

Starbucks, the NCA, and other business organizations are opposed to the coffee trademarking, while charity organizations such as Oxfam favor it.


~ by neoney on November 9, 2007.

One Response to “Ethiopian Trademark”

  1. I listened to the podcast with the Ethiopian dignatary being interviewed that is responsible for the TM system. I agree with you that I see good and bad in the idea. But, I see worse of an idea by letting Starbucks zeleously take control over the trade marks. If somebody is going to control them, I would rather have the Ethiopian government than have a corporation such as $B controlling the TM.

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