Protection of traditional knowledge, Traditional design and expressions and well-known agricultural products with appropriate intellectual property tools improves the market competitiveness of local products ensuring the fair and equitable beneficiary of local communities and producers. But there are different approaches and views with regard to the efficient use of intellectual property for the protection of traditional knowledge and well known agricultural products.
By understanding its national role of leadership in facilitating and organizing the diversified issues surrounding the integration of intellectual property into the protection and commercialization of local products and associated services, the Ethiopian intellectual property office revisited its structure and organized a new directorate namely, the Intellectual property asset development directorate. This directorate is comprised of three major teams focusing on more prioritized areas of Intellectual property protection and commercialization.
- Traditional Medical Knowledge Development Team
Traditional Medicine has been in existence even before the advent of modern medicine. It continues to remain an alternative healthcare available for the majority developing countries. Complementary and alternative medicine is becoming popular even in developed or industrialized countries with a shift of preferences for chronic diseases emanated from unhealthy eating, lack of physical exercise and obesity. In the Ethiopian context a large segments of the population relied for centuries on a system of traditional or indigenous health care for treating several ailments. This is often linked to Ethiopia’s multi ethnic and cultural diversity coupled with the varied natural environments which is endowed with diversified medicinal plants and associated traditional medical knowledge. There are also age-old written documents such as “Metsehafe fews”, “metsehafe Medhanit”, “Etse Debdabe”, which served as the pharmacopeia of the past time.
Ethiopia’s huge potential regarding the ample availability of traditional medicinal plants for product development and rich associated traditional knowledge to be used as spring board for innovation and drug development, but the sector is still stacked by several social and cultural impediments. One of the frequently mentioned problems of traditional medicine in Ethiopia is the little or very limited attempts conducted to improve the safety, quality and efficacy of the service. This is also coupled with the traditional healers’ secrecy cultures and practices. In all these and other intricate problems the intellectual property system will play a crucial role in facilitating knowledge transfer among traditional healers and between traditional healers and researchers.
Thus the newly established traditional medical knowledge development team is responsible to
- Work on raising IP awareness of traditional healers and researchers
- Preparing and implementing model traditional medical knowledge transfer agreement to serve for collaborative research between researchers and Traditional healers
- Installing legal and technical infrastructures such as data bases and access guidelines in order to ensure the IP protection of Traditional Medical knowledge
- Cultural designs and utilities development Team
Traditional cultural expressions, designs and handicrafts have intrinsic social, cultural, spiritual, economic, scientific, intellectual and educational value. Traditional cultures and knowledge systems are not static, but constitute diverse frameworks of on-going innovation and creativity that benefit indigenous and local communities, as well as society more generally.
In the Ethiopian context there are ample and complex examples of cultural expressions and designs ranging from Traditional clothes, weaving materials, pottery etc. to the most complex spiritual paintings and symbolic representations of cultural values. It is highly believed that the Intellectual property system could support the misuse and misappropriation of Traditional cultural expressions and designs. There are also research findings supporting how Intellectual Protections of Traditional cultural expressions and designs improve the marketability of local Products. Therefore, in Ethiopia there is a wider gap of undertaking research on how to commercialize traditional cultural expressions by making valued added products coupled with appropriate intellectual property protections. The marketability of those traditional products may arise from their traditional orientation, mode of production such as simply made by hand and inputs or sources for manufacturing the products. But those attributes of marketability could be further maximized by intellectual property protections. Bearing this in mind the Ethiopian Intellectual property office aligned itself to the new demand of supporting the intellectual property protection of traditional cultural expressions and designs with the following focus areas.
- Planning and implementing awareness raising activities for handicraft associations and Technical and vocational schools.
- Supporting the stakeholders such as cultural offices, research institutions at various levels of the government.
- Fine agricultural products Team
Ethiopia is endowed with a varied agro ecological zones which dictated the cultivations of diversified agricultural products. As a result, farming communities could be benefited if those environmental variations and quality are attributing to the demand of those agricultural products, intellectual property or branding in particular would play a crucial role in maximizing the market competitiveness of products. There are different intellectual property tools for the protections or branding of agricultural products such as Trade marking, Geographic certifications, varietal brands or a combinations of more than one IP tools. Currently the Ethiopian intellectual property office is working to protect well known agricultural products by using the Trademark proclamation 501/2006 particularly by granting collective trademarks for associations of producers and cooperatives.
At the International market the Ethiopian Intellectual property office in Collaboration with other stakeholders and non-governmental organizations designed and implemented a project on Ethiopian Fine coffees. As a result from the different coffee types of Ethiopia three well known coffees namely HARRAR, YIRGACHEFE, SIDAMO are registered as a trademark within 34 countries where Ethiopian coffee is marketed.
Thus, the Fine agricultural products team is established with the following major responsibilities
- Facilitating and supporting the registration of fine agricultural products
- Capacity building on the exploitations of brands and trademarks
- Organizing forums and platforms of brand licensing and enforcement