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Starbucks, Ethiopia settle licensing dispute
LOS ANGELES |
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp. (SBUX.O) and the Ethiopian government reached an agreement that settles a dispute over the country's bid to trademark its coffee beans, according a joint statement released on Wednesday.
The U.S. coffee chain had been accused by Ethiopia and aid agency Oxfam of attempting to block Ethiopia from obtaining trademarks for its best-known beans -- Sidamo and Harrar.
The agreement allows Starbucks to use and promote the Harrar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe designations in markets where trademarks exist, as well as where they don't, the statement said.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Ethiopia's Yirgacheffe coffee a trademark in 2006.
Starbucks had previously stated that it would not oppose Ethiopia's efforts to obtain trademarks, but the agreement goes further.
"This is a broad agreement that addresses distribution, marketing and licensing," Sandra Taylor, senior vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at Starbucks, told Reuters.
It includes the license of certain trademarks and language that recognizes the importance and integrity of Ethiopia's specialty coffee designations.
Currently, about 2 percent of Starbucks' coffee purchases are from Ethiopia, but the amount could increase as the company plans to raise its coffee supply from East Africa.
"Our customers know that some of the highest quality coffees in the world come from Ethiopia," Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz said in the statement.
Dr. Samuel Assefa, the Ethiopian Ambassador to the United States, praised Starbucks.
"What we have learned in our dealings with Starbucks over the last several months is that the company listens to its stakeholders' concerns and is attentive to the plight of the poor farmers who produce the finest specialty coffees in the world," he said.
In theory, the trademark agreement could boost income for Ethiopian farmers by allowing the country to negotiate purchasing conditions for coffee roasters or retailers that want to use that name.
About a quarter of Ethiopia's 80 million people live off the coffee farming industry. The country's average annual income is around $1,000.
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