( Courtesy Zespri )

A judge has ruled that New Zealand kiwifruit company Zespri’s claims that a Chinese company illegally propagated its fruit is valid.

The lawsuit, filed in 2018, said Haoyu Gao and Xia Xue, a husband and wife whose company is Smiling Face Ltd., propagated two varieties of kiwifruit belonging to Zespri, including SunGold.

The court also ruled the defendants allowed other growers to grow the kiwifruit, although they had no licensing rights, according to a news release from Zespri. The judge also fined Smiling Face $15 million.

“This is an important decision for New Zealand’s kiwifruit growers, as well as for other New Zealand horticultural businesses, giving them the confidence that if they continue to invest in research and development to create value for New Zealand they will have protections against those who seek to undermine that,” Dave Courtney, chief grower and alliances officer said in the release.

Zespri’s investigation has identified associates of Haoyu Gao and others who misled Chinese investors and growers, according to the release. The kiwifruit company said the ruling is a positive step in China’s efforts to stop intellectual property infringement.

“A critical aspect of the court’s decision was the recognition of the multi-lateral standards of protection that are afforded all International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) members,” Courtney said in the release.

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