Edwin Coe embarks on pro bono IP fight for Ethiopia against Starbucks

Edwin Coe’s head of litigation David Greene is taking on US coffee giant Starbucks in a fight to protect Ethiopian IP interests.

Greene is acting pro bono for the government of Ethiopia as it attempts to prevent Starbucks from registering Ethiopian coffee as a trademark.

The Lincoln’s Inn firm has previously acted for the state bank of Ethiopia, but picked up this case from US charity Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisers (PIIPA). PIIPA’s aim is to help developing countries protect IP through a network of lawyers.

The dispute is currently at an early stage and has not developed into full-blown litigation yet.

“It’s quite important that the IP rights of developing nations are protected, and sometimes they have difficulty in managing both the technical aspects and costs involved in that process,” said Greene.

A spokesperson for Starbucks said it is the company’s policy to follow applicable trademark law, but declined to comment further.

Greene has done a substantial amount of work in sub-Saharan Africa, acting on a number of disputes and arbitrations. His other clients include organisations such as the Kenyan Wildlife Service.

In the UK, he has been acting for the Railtrack Private Shareholders’ Action Group in its claim against the Government, heard in the High Court. Judgment in that case is expected in the autumn.