UC Davis and Former University Scientists to Meet in Court Over Breeding Rights

UC Davis and Former University Scientists to Meet in Court Over Breeding Rights

CALIFORNIA – The world-renowned plant breeding program at UC Davis is making its way into headlines for different reasons than usual; a suit filed against two of its former scientists, with the researchers filing a $45 million lawsuit of their own. At the center of the case are intellectual rights over a highly valuable collection of varieties. 

Plant scientist Douglas Shaw and his partner Kirk Lawson developed 24 new strawberry varieties while working as part of the UC Davis breeding program for over 25 years. According to SF Gate, Shaw headed the world famous program for more than two decades, alongside his biologist partner, Lawson. Varieties created included those that were pest- and disease-resistant, more durable, drought resistant, capable of growing fruit in spring and fall, and succulent fruits with higher production.

The Sacramento Bee reported that the case is centered around a particular collection of plants that an official called “the crown jewels of the breeding program.” Shaw and Larson stated that they developed the plants and have been trying to gain control of them for almost five years, since giving notice they were leaving the program.

Strawberry Field

The partners retired from UC Davis in 2014, as they stated the school was winding down the program, and their work was no longer appreciated, according to the Sacramento Bee. Shaw and Lawson then launched their own company, California Berry Cultivars based in Watsonville, California, that looked to develop new strawberry varieties.

UC Davis is now accusing the researchers of taking some of their work with them when they left, citing patent infringement and violation of a signed oath to not enrich themselves by continuing research using descendants of plants developed at the university.

The scientists have rebutted with a $45 million lawsuit of their own, accusing the University of locking up the plants and destroying hundreds of others to keep a better strawberry from the market. Shaw and Lawson’s legal council has also stated that UC Davis hasn’t released a new variety of strawberry for commercial use since the scientists left. UC Davis has countered, and stated that is program is in full swing with new varieties in the pipeline.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, according to the Sacramento Bee, stated in a pretrial ruling that UC Davis has the right to hold onto the physical plants, but not the intellectual property. Lawson and Shaw proposed that it is nearly impossible for them to develop new varieties without physical possession of the plants.

The trial will begin on May 15 in San Francisco, California. ABC7 reported that some in the industry are concerned that this lawsuit will slow research into new varieties.

How will this issue resolve, and what kind of effect will it bear for the strawberry segment? AndNowUKnow will report.


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