Latin America Team of the Year: National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia
As a non-profit business association that promotes the production and export of Colombian coffee, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia has stewardship of a portfolio representing more than 563 local producers – many of them small, family-owned farms. As well as defending the interests of those coffee growers both domestically and internationally, the association develops advertising campaigns to promote Colombian coffee, with a focus on Juan Valdez – an internationally recognised brand that belongs to its coffee producers.
The trademark team is the heart of these activities, explains Esteban Rubio, attorney at law in the legal division: “We strongly believe that an IP strategy is key to the ability to compete for over half a million Colombian coffee growers. In that sense, the trademark group is a key component to implement brand-based and geographical indication-based strategies, and serves as the axis and leader of all IP matters of our organisation. It is also responsible for coordinating the actions of the legal team, the commercial division, Cenicafé (our R&D division) and others. At the executive level, a number of officers comprise the trademarks and patents committee, which guides and oversees the implementation of all of our IP actions and goals.”
Chief marketing officer and IP director Luis Fernando Samper leads the department, working with a three-strong team on the administration of the federation’s IP assets. “This is provided with strong legal support from two specialised attorneys in our legal division,” adds Rubio. “Finally, a network of local and foreign firms has been engaged to complement in-house expertise with specialised advice and knowledge of local legislation.”
“Handling an extensive IP portfolio involves numerous and continuous actions by our legal team, which is responsible for coordinating trademark agents abroad,” he continues. “As Colombian coffee is exported to over 60 countries and has acquired a significant reputation, we face cases of unauthorised and/or inappropriate use of our intellectual property by third parties, which require continuous supervision by our team. Recent legal proceedings abroad have been particularly demanding, as legislation varies. Additionally, our IP strategy focuses on strong protection of Colombian origin through implementation of an extensive licensing programme and the use of IP instruments such as geographical indications, which involves certain challenges revolving mostly around technical and legal issues that are applied in different ways in different countries.”
And the brand itself must likewise be adapted to suit different markets, observes Rubio: “As certain brands expand in different continents, we not only have to adapt their applications and franchise models in new territories, but also develop transliterations for different languages. This entails the need to make sure that partners around the world understand our legal objectives as well as our policy and philosophy, which is centred on adding value to coffee growers, the actual owners of our marks.”
Rubio goes on to suggest that such a nuanced, big-picture perspective has also been vital in promoting the advancement of his own team: “We understand that IP topics are not just legal topics. Developing a structure where IP is not part of our legal division, but a key component of our organisation has made it possible for close cooperation between different areas that see IP in a much broader perspective. Aligning this priority with the purpose of protecting and leveraging the federation’s IP assets for the benefit of Colombian coffee growers is the key to our success.”