Steve Smith /
23 January 2020AmericasRory O'Neill

Washington State Uni sues apple growers over ‘stolen’ variety

Washington State University is suing two apple producers who it says have infringed its patent through the unlicensed cultivation and sale of a proprietary apple variety.

According to the complaint, filed yesterday, January 22, at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, local companies Apple King and Pro Orchard Management have been growing and selling WSU’s proprietory WA 2 variety without a licence.

WSU first began its apple breeding programme in 1994 in order to develop new apple varieties “ suited to the unique climate of central Washington” and make them available to local growers, the complaint said.

WA 2 was the first product of WSU’s apple breeding efforts. It is protected by a plant patent (number 21,710), which was registered in 2011.

After filing the patent application, WSU began issuing non-exclusive licences to Washington growers allowing them to asexually reproduce and sell WA 2.

The agreements permit the licensee to grow WA 2 only within the confines of an agreed territory, and growing or selling the apple outside of the agreed territory is “strictly prohibited”, the complaint said.

One of the apple growers to receive a non-exclusive WA 2 licence was now-defunct Keller Fruit.

According to the complaint, neither of the defendants Apple King or Pro Orchard Management received a licence, despite them both having exactly the same shareholders as Keller.

While the same shareholders own the defendant companies as legitimate licensee Keller Fruit, the three companies are distinct business entities, the complaint said.

As such Apple King and Pro Orchard are not licensed to grow or sell WA 2, WSU argued.

WSU is seeking a permanent injunction blocking the companies from growing or selling the apple variety, as well as damages and attorneys’ fees.

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