I have written often about the way trademark law plays out predictably along lines of classical rent-seeking. That is not a bad thing per se, but we usually see successful rent seeking performed by actors with greater resources, including ready access to attorneys and officials. The result is frequently an ever-expanding zone of IP rights grabs by IP rights holders, beyond what strict tests such as LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION mandate.
Here it’s more complicated: Ethiopia wants trademark protection for the names of certain coffee beans native to its borders, similar to the protection granted to words such as Champagne and Gorgonzola. Sounds like a good strategy, but who’s going to pay that rent? Our regular customer at this blog, Starbucks Coffee, says the answer to that question hits a little too close to home.
If Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, had been been successful in trademarking its coffee beans with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, it would have allowed the country to control the use of the beans in the market, giving its farmers more of the retail price.”
Securing the trademark for its Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe coffee beans could have allowed the country to increase its negotiation leverage through control of the names and ultimately (derive) a greater share of the retail price in the global market,” Ethiopia’s oreign Ministry said in a statement.
It would also raise the cost of coffee. But that Starbucks java is such a bargain already, we wouldn’t mind, right?
UPDATE: Starbucks says it isn’t so.