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Coffee and Intellectual Property 198

cervesaebraciator writes "A 'Coffee Branding Workshop,' sponsored by the World Intellectual Property Organization, was held recently in Arusha City, at which the Director General of the Tanzania Coffee Board presented a paper titled 'Supporting the Coffee Sector with added Value Products Through Intellectual Property and Branding.' The paper encouraged the use of intellectual property claims, including trademarks, copyrights, patents, and designs, as sources of income which can be used to support agriculture in Africa. The Director General claimed that '[Intellectual property rights] are the basis for today's knowledge based economy and international competitiveness.' This is no doubt related to a broader effort to advance western style intellectual property in Africa through claims of the benefits it offers agriculture. Promoting western style intellectual property law as a means of third world development is a popular strategy for WIPO, the only branch of the UN to have significant wealth deriving from contributions independent of Member States. On a related note of interest to Slashdotters, there is a history of tension between WIPO advocates and FOSS advocates." I hope they take advantage of the marketing possibilities offered by civet-processed coffee.
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Coffee and Intellectual Property

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  • Bad summary (Score:4, Informative)

    by LMariachi ( 86077 ) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:37PM (#42023619) Journal

    The paper encouraged the use of intellectual property claims, including trademarks, copyrights, patents, and designs, as sources of income which can be used to support agriculture in Africa.

    There’s no link to the paper, but that’s not what the linked article says. It says that they’re pushing an initiative to benefit African agriculture through IP and branding. Copyrights, patents, and designs are mentioned only in the context of the presenter explaining to the audience what “intellectual property” even means. (The fact that he felt the need to do that is telling.)

    I suspect the main thrust would be developing geographical indicator branding, like appellations d'origine contrôlée or Cornish pasties; the article mentions Ethiopia’s success in this regard.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:52PM (#42023713)

    Except there were more medicinal compounds patented BEFORE patents were introduced.

    And in Italy there was a measurable slowdown in development JUST AFTER INTRODUCTION of patents for medicines. Profits went up, new drugs went down. They simply didn't have to try so hard to compete.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @10:55PM (#42023733)

    From TFA...

    The process of obtaining IP rights for these three products - collective marks for cotton and vanilla and a trademark for sesame - is well under way. The IP and branding strategies that have been developed under the project “will guarantee the origin of the selected products, and establish the link between their unique and distinctive qualities and their geographical origin,” Mr. Mengistie explains. “They will also make it possible to maintain and enhance the reputation and goodwill of the products by putting into place a quality control and certification system that will enable a range of actors involved in the supply chain to use the brand (be it protected as a certification mark, a collective mark, a trademark or a geographical indication) and to share in the benefits derived from marketing a unique, high-value product.”

    Thing is, there is already vetting and accountability for quality, on the part of the manufacturers of the end-product. If, say, Nestle uses bad vanilla, it will damage consumer demand for the Nestle brand, so they do indeed already do the work necessary to avoid this. This insertion of additional "IP" seems entirely gratuitous middle-manning.

    Let's clarify here. Some IP represents actual added value in terms of utilization of raw materials, via technology or other human ingenuity. Some is merely... []

    ...Rent-seeking, establishing oneself as a "necessary evil" in the process of production simply by the nature of what all production is, and is of no wider value to society.

    If you can't build a better mousetrap, make people pay for the mere notion of your Essential Mousetrap Definition (TM). To overload the metaphor, the rats trying to profit off of this particular gaming of the system (and the forms of it are ubiquitous and manifold) are going to bring down our economic ship which has historically required actual added value be offered somewhere.

  • Re:Bullshit. (Score:4, Informative)

    by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Monday November 19, 2012 @12:04AM (#42024023) Homepage Journal
    Pharma does a lot more than that. Try reading something like this [], which is a blog by an actual medicinal chemist.
  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Monday November 19, 2012 @12:52AM (#42024185)

    Also, a large part of the medications used today originated at publicly funded universities.

    And many of these universities patent and license their work as well. Revenue from these licenses help fund medical/pharma research and the university in general.

    For example the University of California is quite aggressive regarding patenting and licensing discoveries. Half of the revenue goes to the general UC budget, a quarter to the department where the discovery originated and a quarter to the employees who made the discovery.

    BTW, the UC licensing program gives breaks to small local companies.

  • Re:Bullshit. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 19, 2012 @01:05AM (#42024255)

    Plant breeder/scientist here...

    With plants and crops, the only thing Monsanto (or anyone) can patent is it's own genetic trait stack lines or asexually produced plants from a parent plant. The genetic traits are part of the general patent process...the asexually produced cultivars have it's own patent system.

    Unlike what some scare-mongering anti-GMO sites would have people believe, there's plenty of options available in traditionally bred (including hybrid) plants. You won't see hybrid plants patented because they can't be...what they do have going for them on the company/corporate level is that they are usually bred with intensely developed parent lines which usually aren't on the market. If no one else can get these parent plants they can't make their own stabilized hybrids. It's like having the "secret recipe" for a product, only you have to develop the materials that made the hybrid in-house. That said, a company can develop a process for breeding outside of the GMO realm which can be traditionally patented, such as methods for haploid and dihaploid breeding processes. The world of plant breeding is more than just mixing a male source with a female recipient and some of these processes warren intellectual property.

    Also, the reason there's so much GMO corn, soy, cotton, rapeseed (canola), and sugar beets is because the farmers prefer these cropping systems because they deliver more bang for the buck per acre and they're willing to pay for it. Hell, with corn hardly anyone saves seed anymore in the US because hybrids outperform (by a lot) traditional "open pollinated" varieties even if they don't want to touch GMO.

  • Calm down (Score:5, Informative)

    by eddeye ( 85134 ) on Monday November 19, 2012 @02:02AM (#42024477)

    All IP is not created equal. Here they are simply talking about trademarking by regions. Why? Because of vanilla. Madagascar vanilla was recognized as the best in the world. But Madagascar farmers got like 10 cents per pod, while the pods sell in NY for 50 dollars a pod (made up numbers, but you get the point). So the farmers create a geographical indicator (GI) for Madagascar vanilla, certify their product, and now make 25 dollars per pod.

    Coffee is just following this model, so you can market Zimbabwe coffee and Ghana coffee and wherever else and the farmers get to keep a greater share of the profits. Honestly I don't see how this is anything but good - poor farmers keep more of the market value of their product.

    When you hear the word IP, don't foam at the mouth picturing Simon Legree twirling his mustache. Stop, think, and listen. IP is just a tool, it can be used for good or ill.

  • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Monday November 19, 2012 @05:20AM (#42025183)

    But you're actually making part of our argument for us. There is no such thing as "intellectual property" and when people use the word they conflate a number of laws wanting us to think of them as similar when in fact they have almost nothing in common.
    Copyright - automatic, lasts a long time, applies to execution of ideas only.
    Patents - not automatic, lasts a relatively short time, applies to ideas themselves rather than to execution
    Trademark - not automatic, lost if not defended, can last indefinitely - applies to neither ideas nor execution.

    In fact trademarks are not a law of benefit to trademark holders at all (at least not in it's intention), it's intention is to be a consumer protection law - so that when you buy something you can trust it's the real thing (what you describe is a case for proper trademark enforcement which most FOSS people have no problem with whatsoever - indeed I've never met one who did).

    These things are radically different sets of laws with completely different goals and implement in very different (often completely contradictory) manners. Trademarks can't be called a property by any reasonable measure and in fact unlike the others cannot be said to even enable market-forming, they are purely there to protect consumer's interests - not those of trademark HOLDERS but those of ordinary citizens. They are also highly restricted because they apply to words - so they don't get turned into a form of censorship. This is why a trademark is limited to a certain field of endeavour (a trademark on the name windows in computing cannot be enforced on companies that make glass panes to fit into holes in your wall or vice versa), and why they are lost if not defended and if (despite defending them) they become common-usage terminology (this is why Johnson and Johnson lost the trademark on "band-aid", "kleenex" was lost in the same way).

    There is no way to lose your copyright before it expires. You can sue somebody for violating a patent even if a billion other people did it and you never sued any of them before.

    See - these things are completely separate things and should be discussed and debated separately. When we discuss patent reform, throwing copyright into the discussion will only confuse the issue since they are almost entirely opposite in their structure. If we discuss trade-mark enforcement we have literally NOTHING to gain by conflating patent and copyright issues with that.
    I live in Africa and I've lived through some of the problems you describe. I contracted malaria in Nigeria and know the fear of wondering whether the malaria tablets the doctor prescribed and the pharmacy sold me are actually the real thing or just repackaged aspirins. I'm in favor of strong trademark enforcement to prevent such things. At the same time I'm in favor of radical patent reform and possibly even abolishment.
    I really hope my country remains firm and refuses to allow software patents forever, because that is a MAJOR industrial advantage for us. A US company cannot sue us for patent infringement (which every program in the world does) but we COULD sue them - and since they cannot then blackmail us - they leave us alone. We're one of the last countries where a software company doesn't have to compile a huge stockpile of patents just to survive.

  • Re:Bullshit. (Score:5, Informative)

    by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Monday November 19, 2012 @10:40AM (#42026589)

    With plants and crops, the only thing Monsanto (or anyone) can patent is it's own genetic trait stack lines or asexually produced plants from a parent plant.

    But Monsanto plants can and do breed with other plants. Monsanto has sued people who have not paid for use of their patents when those peoples crops became tainted. Sure a lot of people pay for and use them, but it's absurd to patent something that is self replicating in the field. The way you describe it, a patent is not needed because only the producer has the secret recipe. And this is entirely beside the points raised by those "scare-mongering" about GMO foods.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.