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Bostex PLC, the mother company of the global brand footwear soleRebels, won a decisive legal battle against Oliberté Limited, a Canadian footwear company with a branch in Ethiopia. Its victory should serve Bostex PLC as a gentle reminder that the fight for intellectual property and copyright in its birth place is not won, yet, says our special contributor Alem C. 

The name soleRebels is probably one of the few names that have managed to become worldwide phenomena in just under a decade.  A humble letter from Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the personality behind the name, published on the website of her brainchild frankly reads: “Having grown up watching our family and neighbors struggling, we decided to create the “better life” we were all waiting for.”

But now, barely ten years down the line during an interview with this magazine, Bethlehem boasts, deservedly,  “not only is soleRebels one of the  planet’s fastest growing  footwear brands and  the  very first global footwear brand to ever emerge from a developing nation ,  but soleRebels  is  also the first and only globally branded retail chain from a developing country.”

Perhaps it is that alluring nature of Bethlehem’s hard work. In the first week of Oct. her company Bostex PLC won a decisive legal battle against Oliberté Limited, a Canadian footwear company with a branch in Ethiopia that a group of international arbiters said was involved in “paradigmatic abusive cybersquatting” for using soleRebels’s domain name and redirecting web traffic to its website. According to the Anti Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act and the Lanham Act infringements like this result in stiff financial punishments.

Bethlehem knows that the art of protecting what is dearly hers may prove to be costly but says she will fight at all cost. “This is not the [first] time…and we know it won’t be the last. But at least the record is clear –interfere with our brand, we will take action against you, and we will prevail!”

But how hard is just doing that in Ethiopia, a country where soleRebels was first born in 2004 and thrived to become a global brand with 12 stand-alone branded retail stores around the world? In Ethiopia, intellectual property in general and copyright protection in particular is a very recent development compared to other countries in most parts of Africa.

Our challenge to our super talented artisans was simple: create a tooTOO so cool + comfy that it would make grown men + women weep like babies at the sight of it. Well ok not weep.
Our challenge to our super talented artisans was simple: create a tooTOO so cool + comfy that it would make grown men + women weep like babies at the sight of it. Well ok not weep /Photo: soleRebels

In more than a dozen appearances worldwide representing her products, Bethlehem’s messages are always the same: “I have always maintained that for Ethiopia and Africa to truly prosper, creating potent homegrown globally successful brands is the key. And protecting those brands is an equally crucial piece of that endeavor,” she told this magazine.

The 1960 Civil Code is the first law that deals with copyright issues in Ethiopia. The Code discusses about protection of Literary and Artistic ownership. However, the laws were not sufficient to cover all issues relating to copyright and to effectively protect the right of authors and owners of copyrightable materials.

Ethiopia’s constitution recognizes the protection of intellectual property in general. Under its cultural objectives provision (Article 91(3)) it states that the “Government shall have the duty to the extent its resources permit to support the development of the arts, science and technology.”

The team at soleRebels is not short of coming up with more creative ideas. Its distinctive eccentricity is using terms like “historically eco-sensible” and “green by heritage” to create the next phenomenal design. Surely, these are ideas worth protecting and preserving. Bethlehem explains it better when she said: “we do so because we want to express the key fact that we are embracing these deeply sustainable and traditionally zero carbon methods of production not because it’s the in the thing, or because we held a focus group or because some marketing genius named Bernie told us to be “green”. We embrace these production methodologies, ideas and ethos because they are integral parts of Ethiopia’s cultural fabric.”

Adding up to the uniqueness of its copy right that need the protection it deserves, soleRebels lines up its shoe interiors and strap linings with the fabric made from organic hand spun cotton. “And we are constantly taking this idea farther and deeper. For us sustainability and cultural arts are living ideas that need to be redefined and re interpreted to keep themselves contemporary,” says Bethlehem.

For now Bethlehem and her team may take comfort knowing that the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) was established as an autonomous institution in 2003. Copyright and Neighboring Rights Protection Proclamation No.410/2004 was also enacted in 2004. Its record is wobbly and protection of intellectual property and copy right in this country has a dismaying history but soleRebels has done it on a global scale and would certainly do a good job in protecting what is dear and unparalleled locally too. For starters, the new proclamation has introduced new concepts and rights, widened the scope of copyright and related rights, and provided a better mechanism of enforcement and protection of copyright.

Photo : Addis Standard

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