Ethiopia: Efforts Underway to Reclaim Teff Patent Right - Office

Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office announced that it would do everything it can and work closely with every stakeholders for the reclamation of teff patent right in what it said was unfairly claimed by a Dutch company.

The office would resort to every means including diplomacy and legal measure (taking the case to the court) to make sure that justice is served, Office Communication Affairs Director Representative Biruk Workineh told The Ethiopian Herald.

It was in 2004 that the country entered into an agreement with a Dutch company known as Health and Performance Food International for the latter to generate hybrid teff seed, Biruk said.

However, breaking away from the agreement, the company has been producing teff products and supplying it to international market bringing the country huge loss of money and its patent ownership of teff, he stressed.

Afterwards, while the country has organized a committee comprised of various ministries and institutions to get the patent back, so far its efforts have gone fruitless due to the company's tricky but also illegal escaping mechanisms, he noted.

However, currently the office is doing a daunting task and making a last ditch efforts together with ministries of Foreign Affairs, and Science and Technology, and Institutes of Ethiopian Agricultural Research and Ethiopian Biodiversity, to speed up the patent reclamation process, he expressed.

On the other hand, the country is emboldening other countries to slam the claim and build pressure on the company. Today, some countries such as US and Japan refused to accept the company's claim, labeling it a fake patent, he stated.

While doing this, Ethiopian embassies abroad would promote teff, Ethiopia's staple food of the country, to send a message that Ethiopia but no country or company deserves the patent right.

"In fact, Ethiopia can win the court battle as teff is its unique product that originated inside the country."

The office is also working to protect such patent snatching problems basically through drafting and implementing new intellectual property law that would help to inscribe, protect and acknowledge the social knowledge and indigenous products in a database system, he disclosed.

According to Biruk, the system would help to protect patent right from illegal looters through allowing international accreditation institutions to check ownership and other formalities online.

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