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Abstract

Over the past decade, coffee producers have been struggling with the world market’s low and unstable coffee prices. Some coffee producing countries try to overcome this crisis by moving from pure commodity exports to higher-price exports of niche market quality products, like “single-origin coffee”, protected by intellectual property tools. Such protection can take the form of trademarks or geographical indications. At present within the single-origin coffee sector, a trend to use the latter form can be observed. For example, “Café de Colombia” was registered as a Protected Geographical Indication under Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006. Another recent example is the Ethiopian Fine Coffee Trademarking and Licensing Initiative. In order to protect its coffee industry, the Ethiopian government has filed trademark applications for the country’s most valuable brands in over 30 countries, including all major coffee markets. This article suggests that both concepts offer mixed blessings. The particularities of the global coffee market might in some cases be better accommodated by a trademark scheme whilst in other cases by a geographical indication system. However, in order to ensure the individual farmer benefits from the higher price paid for single-origin coffee on the world coffee market, further steps have to be taken.

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