Can You Trademark Coffee Beans?
from the starbucks-would-like-to-know dept
HurB writes in to point out a dispute over whether or not Ethiopian farmers can trademark certain types of coffee beans. This might not seem like a technology issue -- but it is an issue of abuse of intellectual property, which is important to the tech industry. It appears that the National Coffee Association has tried to block the trademark application in the US. A group representing Ethiopian farmers blames Starbucks, claiming that the NCA is acting as a front for Starbucks' effort to keep the beans trademark free. In the submission, this is positioned as big bad Starbucks exploiting Ethiopan farmers, but that doesn't seem to be the case at all. If anything it looks like the opposite. The purpose of trademark law is to prevent confusion over brand names, but the details suggest that's not what's happening here. Instead, Ethiopia is just trying to get more money out of Starbucks for offering coffee based on their beans. As is suggested in the article, the actual impact, though, would be to make the beans too costly and price the Ethiopian coffee bean farmers out of the market -- which helps no one. If they're selling their beans to Starbucks, then they should set a price and be done with it. It seems, however, that they want to be able to set their price for the beans, and then charge an additional "trademark licensing" fee on top of the beans. It's a plan that's destined to backfire. Luckily, the US has rejected some of the trademark applications already, but to position this as Starbucks trying to take advantage of the coffee bean farmers is to misunderstand economics and the very purpose of trademark law.