The University of California-Davis has sued the California Strawberry Commission, alleging infringement of patent and intellectual property rights and upping the ante in an ongoing court battle.
At issue is the fate of the strawberry plants, or germplasm, at the heart of a breeding program whose varieties are widely produced by the state’s grower-shippers.
The university filed suit Oct. 28 and sought to transfer the case from the Alameda County Superior Court to U.S. District Court in San Francisco, arguing patent issues require federal oversight.
Earlier in October, an Alameda judge rejected a university request to dismiss the commission’s breach of contract suit.
According to the commission suit, in late 2011 researchers Doug Shaw and Kirk Larson began planning to resign from the university and establish a private breeding company. The university has denied Shaw and Larson are taking their research with them.
The California Strawberry Commission violated patent rights, according to the university’s complaint, by making, using or selling the Albion, Monterey and San Andreas varieties. Duplication of the germplasm on these and six other varieties would jeopardize revenue to the university from licensing nurseries, according to the suit.
Chris Christian, senior vice president at the Watsonville-based commission, said the university’s legal action is a step in the wrong direction.
“We are disappointed that UC-Davis has decided to sue farmers,” Christian said in a statement. “The university can resolve the issue by simply agreeing in writing to restore the public breeding program that California strawberry farmers have funded since the 1950s.
“The commission requested additional settlement discussions after the court ruling, but were told the university is not available until next year.”
The commission has funded salaries and research, and strawberry growers have spent more than $50 million on the public breeding program at the UC-Davis.