The Office of the Attorney General will speak out this week about the steps Ethiopia will follow to handle the teff patent issue. | © Photo By DW/J.Jeffrey

The Office of the Attorney General will speak out this week about the steps Ethiopia will follow to handle the teff patent issue. The Attorney General is also expected to disclose the law firm Ethiopia has hired to pursue the issue.

The announcement came following a ruling by a court in The Netherlands that a Dutch company's patent for teff, a native and staple grain in Ethiopia, is null. Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye has disclosed that it would step in to proceed with a legal claim to secure the right of the grain for Ethiopia.

In nullifying the patent, the court judged that the grain, used to make Ethiopia's injera flatbread, could not be invented, and thus a patent cannot be issued for it.

The patent had been held by Jans Roosjen, a Dutch agronomist, since 2003 in the Netherlands. After another Dutch company, Bakels, began marketing teffproducts, Roosjen sued for patent infringement. A Dutch patent office ruled against Roosjen’s right to the patent, as did another court in the Hague that upheld the ruling.

“I hope we can learn from this that our national assets must be protected by Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia,” Fitsum Arega, former commissioner of the Ethiopian Investment Commission and current ambassador to the United States, tweeted last Tuesday.

Nonetheless, the ruling does not award Ethiopia patent rights to teff, although Ethiopia can now market products from the grain in the Netherlands, as the ruling only applies in that country. Roosjen's patent remains applicable in the European Union and Britain.

“Ethiopia has already deployed a law firm to fight the teffcase internationally,” tweeted  Berhanu.

He confirmed to Fortunethat his office will brief the media this coming week.

Yonas Admassu, the founder of Lovegrass Ethiopia, which sells teffproducts overseas, believes that this is not a good start, though the Dutch patent was counterproductive to the nation’s interest in the grain.

“Farmers from around the world can freely market teffin Europe without any fear of the patent. Since there is no framework for export, branding and marketing policy for teff, Ethiopia is the only country that will not benefit,” he said.

For the last few decades, teffhas been commercially cultivated in the United States, Australia and Israel. Rich in protein, fibre and minerals, teffhas slowly been gaining global acceptance as low-fat and sugar-free diets have become popular.

“Ethiopian intellectuals and policymakers have to join forces to at least secure geographical indication over the use of the name teff, which is what the French did with champagne,” Yonas said.

Mohammed Aman (PhD), assistant professor at Haramaya University's School of Agricultural Economy & Agribusiness for more than a decade, has a different view on the matter. He believes Ethiopia should instead strike a deal with companies that have already penetrated the market well.

"Organise discussions with all stakeholders and reach a common understanding of maintaining the originality of teffand work on branding to make teffone of the economic pillars of the country," he suggested.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 09,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 980]

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