Intellectual Property Watch has a section on genetic resources. You can sign up for e-mail alerts or subscribe to an RSS feed. There seems to be an average of maybe 3-4 postings a month, which is not too bad, though I know that for some that is 3-4 too many.
Kathryn Garforth has an excellent post digging up some of the background to the explosion of interest in Starbucks’ efforts to block the attempt by Ethiopia to trademark the names of some of its coffee varieties. She teases apart who said what when, but more than that goes into some detail on the nuances behind some of the press releases on both sides, making it clear that Starbucks did not actually directly oppose Ethiopia’s tradmark application.
The whole question of getting a better return for the farmers who preserve some bits of agricultural biodiversity is vexed. Denomination of Origin certificates offer some protection, but not against copycats who simply go ahead and make, say, Greek cheese in Denmark, or Champagne-style wines just about anywhere. For something like Ethiopian coffee, I wonder whether any protection is needed. I mean, even if they could get the material to start a plantation, are any big coffee plantation people going to bother to start up a Sidano plantation in Vietnam? I somehow doubt it. It makes Oxfam look good, to anyone who doesn’t go deeper, but will it change anything for the coffee farmers of Ethiopia? I doubt it.
I’ve just come across a blog maintained by Kathryn Garforth, a research fellow with the International Sustainable Biodiversity Law programme of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL) who describes herself as “an independent legal researcher and consultant working in the areas of biodiversity, health and intellectual property rights.” Recent postings deal with the Starbucks Ethiopian coffee kerfuffle, biofuels and the Indian Biodiversity Act. Some very thoughtful stuff.
A number of stories in the past few days have highlighted some novel initiatives to “mainstream” traditional medicine in Africa and China. First there was an article in The Economist on the effort by the Association for African Medicinal Plants Standards to develop a pharmacopoeia, or database of plants used in traditional medicine. By early next year this will include information on about 50 plants and how they are used across Africa. Then today there’s a report from a WHO meeting in Lusaka saying that institutionalizing traditional medicine would improve the care provided by African health systems. And there’s also news that the Chinese government has launched a programme to test the safety of traditional medicines, the latest in a series of projects on traditional medicine in China (see links at bottom of the page).
The question is: would Ethiopia trademarking its Sidano and Harar coffee result in a better return to local farmers through increased leverage or in a worse return through higher prices. Read about it here. I’d be tempted to bet on the former, or Starbucks wouldn’t be protesting so much. Or is that too cynical?