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October 13, 2008

Jamaica Blue Mountain About to Be Served a Bitter Naming Brew?

jbm2.pngSince "Blue Mountain" is judged to be too generic to be registered as a trademark, The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica is taking an interesting approach to gaining ownership of the name.

As the current owners of the "Jamaica Blue Mountain" mark, The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica is attempting to secure "Blue Mountain" by itself by registering it as a Geographic Indication (GI).

I find this interesting because I happen to be a coffee lover and have probably had hundreds of cups of "Blue Mountain" coffee without thinking about where it comes from.

echo-point-blue-mountain-sydney.jpgI have thought, vaguely, that its an American coffee (probably mistakenly thinking of The Blue Ridge Mountains), although it just as easily could have been an Australian brew, named after the Blue Mountains close to Sydney.

However, both Kenya and Ethiopia have apparently been selling coffee with the Blue Mountain name. In fact, at least one Kenya brand sells a "Fair Trade" version.

The issue here is that there is already a high set of requirements for a coffee to be called "Jamaican." Blue Mountain Coffee takes this differentiation to an even higher level.

And then, of course, there are also various coffee sub-brands located within the Jamaica Blue Mountain range.

Geographic Indications for the Origin of Coffee is well traveled trademark terrain. It is a term used to "identify a good as originating in the territory, region or locality where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin, such as 'Florida oranges.'" Even better, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, "Geographical Indications serve the same functions as trademarks,
because like trademarks they are source identifiers, guarantees of quality, and are valuable business interests."

Coffeebeans.jpgHere's the kicker: If your product does indeed come from the same area as indicated in the registration or the name can be argued to have lost its regional uniqueness and simply becomes used to signify a certain product no matter where it comes from, you get to use the name under rules of "fair use."

Ethiopia has already learned this lesson when it tried to register its "Harrar" coffee mark. The registration office pointed out that "Harrar" is well-known as coffee blends, and thus, Ethiopia could not claim the regional indicator.

Blue Mountain is even more well known than "Harrar" and thus I am sure the African users of the name will probably argue that they are simply trading under fair use, even if Jamaica gets the geographic indicator.

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Posted by William Lozito at October 13, 2008 10:26 AM
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1 Comment

The Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee name must be protected in order to insure that consumers are receiving the coffee that they intend to purchase. Likewise, Jamaican Coffee farmers, the CIB and exporters should also be rewarded for their stewardship of what is routinely regarded as the very best coffee in the world.

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