Jury Rules with UC Davis in Lawsuit over Strawberry Breeding Rights
DAVIS, CA – A federal jury has sided with the University of California in a recent lawsuit brought about by two former UC Davis strawberry breeders and the private breeding company they created with UC-owned plants.
“This federal jury decision is good news for public strawberry breeding at UC Davis and all strawberry farmers throughout California and the world,” said Helene Dillard, Dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, in a university press release. “Our revitalized public strawberry breeding program will continue to develop affordable, high-quality varieties and train the next generation of breeders to serve every strawberry farmer, shipper, processor, and consumer.”
Jurors ruled unanimously in favor of the university, deciding that Douglas Shaw and Kirk Larson had infringed on UC patents and breached duties of loyalty and fiduciary duties. The two were found to have used plant material owned by the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program to develop berries for California Berry Cultivars (CBC)—a corporate breeding firm they established with several large commercial nurseries and growers.
As we previously reported, Shaw and Larson retired from the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program in 2014 after decades of successful breeding for the university. The two then attempted to secure a license from the university to use the UC varieties in their new venture, which it decided not to grant.
“Ninety-nine percent of the genetic diversity of UC Davis patented varieties was captured by CBC’s breeding activity,” said Stephen Dellaporta, Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale—who conducted DNA analysis for CBC plants grown in California from seeds imported from Spain. “Also, CBC’s seedlings contain genetic material from five university-patented varieties that had not been released at the time they were bred, and 19 that had never been released.”
California is one of the world's leading strawberry producing regions, and varieties developed at UC Davis produce about 60 percent of the strawberries consumed worldwide and generate $2.5 billion each year. California growers pay lower rates than other farmers for strawberries developed by the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program and get access to new varieties first.
“We appreciate the great varieties the university has produced over the years, and we look to what the future holds,” said Neil Nagata, a third-generation strawberry grower from San Diego County.
The case is scheduled to return to federal court on May 31, 2017, when the judge will decide on issues related to damages.