(UPDATED COVERAGE Jan. 31) California officials say a lawsuit disputing the rights to berry research and varieties that growers already paid millions for is on hold as the University of California-Davis negotiates with the California Strawberry Commission.
“The university had been in discussions with the commission regarding the issues the commission raised in the lawsuit, and we had hoped to reach a resolution that was satisfactory for both the commission and the university,” said Jacob Appelsmith, chief campus counsel for UC-Davis.
Appelsmith, said the university was “disappointed” the commission filed the case. The Watsonville-based commission filed the civil suit Oct. 8, 2013, in Alameda County Court. Appelsmith said the university was not served until Dec. 6.
“We have continued to work with the commission to address the issues raised,” Appelsmith said Jan. 30. “We currently have agreements in place with the commission to put the litigation on hold, and our conversations have been productive.”
There have been talks between the entities, but commission communications director Carolyn O’Donnell said Jan. 31 there hasn’t been formal action.
“While the commission has been in conversation with university representatives, there have been no procedural steps taken to alter the legal action,” O’Donnell said.
She said the university breeding program is a “critical” industry partner and the strawberry commission has contributed to it since 1955, with more than $18 million in the past 25 years.
“A continued public breeding program is crucial to the continued success of strawberry farmers in California,” O’Donnell said.
The lawsuit alleges that UC-Davis breached its contract with the commission. Among the allegations, the commission says growers are no longer receiving strawberry germplasm specifically developed for them.
The commission wants a judge to stop UC-Davis from allowing two scientists to control and profit from research and cultivars commission members paid for already.
The two scientists have been working on strawberries since the commission’s formal arrangement with the school began in 1980. They are not named as defendants in the case.
According to the commission’s complaint, in early 2012 researchers Doug Shaw and Kirk Larson announced intentions to resign and take the germplasm and research to establish a private company to research and breed strawberries. The university then notified the strawberry commission it planned to terminate the breeding and research program and said it will no longer sell new strawberry varieties to the growers, according to the civil lawsuit.
“The majority of the commission’s growers will not obtain the new strawberry varieties that Shaw and Larson will develop from the germplasm because Shaw and Larson intend to exclusively distribute the new strawberry varieties to select growers,” according to the complaint.
The commission contends growers have paid $60 million to the university since the 1950s to directly finance strawberry breeding, and in royalties to plant those varieties.