I mean, I'd argue that they shouldn't have had the patent on principle - I don't think it's okay just because they didn't sue anyone over it. For starters, I disagree with granting a patent for teff in the first place, Ethiopian or not. I especially don't think you should get a patent for something you've essentially stolen from another culture. If we assume the patent office simply didn't know what they were doing, then this guy conned his way into being the lone distributor of a staple food-item that's existed for 2000 years. That sucks.
And what if you're not another white dude who wants to sell ethnic cuisine, but you're the ethnicity-in-question and you want to sell teff flour? You can't sell it even though your ancestors have been eating it for longer than the government of the Netherlands has existed? That sucks too.
And what if you're Ethiopian and living in Ethiopia?
After doing some research, I found this quote:
...These claims bestow the patent owner monopoly rights, i.e., legal rights in the above countries to exclude others from making, using, selling or importing the flour and food product made from the flour. In other words, for example, if an Ethiopian company wishes to produce bread made exclusively of teff flour that has a falling number of at least 250 (i.e., teff that has been stored for several weeks) for export into the countries listed above, then the patent owner can legally sue the company for patent infringement, and further block their importation into the countries (or entirely block the company from producing the product if the company is based in one of those countries).
...That being said, the the research also revealed that the original article might be a little dishonest:
Basically, teff was never patented, but a specific way of processing teff was. That patent is now invalid, because it patented the way that teff flour has been prepared internationally for years (cutting it with flour, since teff is an expensive import). Now Ethiopians can sell teff to the Netherlands, but patents exist in other European countries. If Ethiopia wants to invalidate similar patents, this could set a precedent. That litigation would (apparently) be costly and likely ineffective.
This comment has been all over the place. I apologize for writing it as I researched instead of starting it after looking into the issue fully.
I'm starting to realize that this issue is more complicated than I first thought, and I don't know that I can really invest time into further investigating it. I learned some interesting things, though, so thank you for that! At the end of the day, I don't have all the answers either. If Ethiopia wants to reclaim teff flour internationally by fighting patents, I'd support them. At this point, though, I think I have to recognize that it's an Ethiopian issue and it's not something I'm fully equipped to chime in on.