UC Davis Settles Strawberry Breeding Lawsuit
DAVIS, CA - One of the biggest lawsuits in California strawberry history has come to a close. UC Davis has settled its long-standing lawsuit against two former employees who allegedly used the university’s plants illegally to breed new varieties.
In a recently filed court document, UC Davis moved to settle this case, with the final agreement stating that the former UC Davis scientists can continue using some of the strawberry plants they developed at the school, but have to return others, the Sacramento Bee reports. The duo, Douglas Shaw and his partner Kirk Larson, will also owe $2.5 million as retribution for royalty payments they stand to collect for work they did at Davis.
AndNowUKnow has been watching this case since reports first spurred up in early May. This lawsuit is of interest particularly because UC Davis is responsible for developing seeds used by nearly half of the strawberry businesses in California’s $1.9 billion-a-year strawberry industry.
“If you want more and better strawberries on your table…you should care about whether the university should be able to keep these varieties in a lockbox,” shared Greg Lanier, the breeders’ lawyer, in a SacBee interview earlier this year. “Strawberry farmers need new varieties to battle changing weather–it’s rain, it’s drought, it’s changes in what pesticides you can use.”
Over the course of Shaw and Larson’s 25-year tenure at UC Davis, the two developed 24 new strawberry varieties. According to SF Gate, Shaw headed the world famous program for more than two decades, alongside his biologist partner, Larson. Varieties created included those that were pest- and disease-resistant, more durable, drought resistant, capable of growing fruit in spring and fall, and create succulent fruits with higher production.
According to the Bee, the strawberry breeds in question have generated tens of millions of dollars for UC Davis, and Shaw and Larson have earned millions themselves through a royalty-sharing arrangement.
When Shaw and Larson quit UC Davis in 2014, they formed a new company together called California Berry Cultivars, which is when the UC sued the two men and their new company. The university stated the two had violated their “duties of loyalty” by attempting to breed new varieties using plants that were the property of UC Davis, and in turn, California Berry countersued for $45 million, arguing that the university had been “stifling innovation” by refusing to grant Shaw and Larson a license for the plants.
This settlement marks the end of the long legal battle, and while neither side has made comment on the terms, AndNowUKnow will continue to report if new information is made available. Until then, stay tuned!