Dutch court rules against patent for teff flour over lack of innovation

Kwao Saa

A legal battle in the Netherlands over the ownership of teff flour has finally ended.  

A Dutch court ruled against a European patent for products manufactured using teff. The court, which was presided over by three judges, ruled that the patent, which was filed in 2003, lacked ”inventiveness.”  

A Dutch citizen requested the patent for teff flour. Jans Roosjen is the owner of Ancientgrain, a company that claims to have introduced teff to the Netherlands. The company applied for a patent for mixing and ripening teff flower in 2003. Ancientgrain also requested patents for teff products in Austria, Belgium, Italy and England.  

The patent by Ancientgrain was not noticed until 2014 after another Dutch company called Bakels advertised a teff flour blend online. Ethiopian officials only became aware of the patent when Ancientgrain filed a copyright infringement case against Bakels for infringing on its patent. 

The court reached the verdict in November 2018, but it was only announced this week. The Dutch embassy in Ethiopia released a statement concerning the verdict via its Twitter page. 

”The reason for the late announcement is the time for appeal was still running. As no time for appeal was still running. As no appeal was made, the verdict is now final: the claim to processing teff by patent holder is null and void in the Netherlands,” the statement read.  

According to the Court in the Hague, the method of baking bread involves mixing the flours of different grains which require general skill and cannot be considered innovative

The Court ordered Ancientgrain to pay Bakels over 130,000 Euros.  

Fitsum Arega, an Ethiopian diplomat in the US, said the verdict is great news and should highlight the need to protect Ethiopia’s assets. 

“This is great news, I hope we can learn from this that out national assets must be protected by Ethiopians & friends of Ethiopia,” Fitsum Arega said in a Twitter post.  

Teff is indigenous to East Africa, and has been used to prepare food for hundreds of years. The grain, which is rich in minerals and proteins, is considered a superfood. The popularity of teff has been growing internationally after the Ethiopian government lifted a ban on exporting it in 2015.