3 August 2023TrademarksMarisa Woutersen

Grape breeder secures China win under updated seed laws

World’s largest private breeder of table grapes wins infringement case in Yunnan | 2022’s updated China Seed Law expanded protections for growers | Kiwifruit company brings lawsuit against sellers in Nanjing.

International Fruit Genetics (IFG), the world’s largest private breeder of table grapes, has won an infringement case over plant variety rights (PVR) in Yunnan, China.

The dispute centred around the unauthorised use of IFG's proprietary grape variety, IFG Six, known as IFG六 in Chinese, which is commercially marketed as Sweet Sapphire.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs officially recognised the infringement under the country’s updated seed laws and imposed administrative fines on the infringing party, for illicitly producing and selling propagation and harvested material of IFG Six (sold under the trademark 甜蜜蓝宝石).

The fourth amendment of the China Seed Law came into force in March 2022 and focused on the protection of IP rights in new plant varieties.

It extended the protection of harvested materials, added the concept of essentially derived varieties and increased the amount of civil compensation for infringement.

‘Huge win for the agricultural industry’

IFG’s CEO Andy Higgins called the decision “a huge win for IFG and the entire agriculture industry”.

“The goal with these types of legal action is never to be punitive, but to create an environment where other plant variety rights holders feel comfortable and protected. We aim to bring forward the best varieties, technical and market support to the entire industry,” said Higgins.

“It is vital to what we do as breeders that we pursue all IP infringements to protect not only our work, but also the investments and commitments our licensees have made to IFG genetics,” he continued.

IFG is the largest private breeder of table grapes globally and has developed popular grape varieties in the market.

In China, IFG holds PVR protection for 13 of its grape varieties, including IFG Six (marketed as Sweet Sapphire), IFG Ten (marketed as Sweet Globe), and IFG Eleven (marketed as Sugar Crisp).

Baker McKenzie FenXun helped secure the win for IFG.

The legal team was led by partner Andrew Sim from Baker McKenzie, with assistance from associate Jacqueline Wang of FenXun partners, Baker McKenzie's joint operation platform partner in China.

Commenting on the win, Andrew Sim, head of the firm's global PVR practice, said: “This victory comes under the newly amended PRC Seed Law and serves as a testament to our proficiency in handling IP and PVR matters.

“Going forward, we will continue to collaborate closely with plant breeders to protect their IP rights and commercial interests in China."

Kiwifruit exporter sues in Nanjing

Meanwhile, a kiwifruit exporter and marketer has taken legal action against two defendants in the IP Court in Nanjing, China, for the unauthorised production, sale, and marketing of its gold kiwifruit, reported by Stuff.

The news report highlighted the move by Zespri comes after amendments made to China's Seed Law last year, granting the company the ability to pursue legal action against those involved in the unauthorised selling of Gold3, also known as SunGold, rather than solely targeting growers.

In a newsletter to growers, Zespri emphasised the significance of this civil case in safeguarding the investments made by New Zealand producers in licensed kiwifruit varieties, as well as protecting the interests of its customers and consumers.

Zespri's chief executive, Dan Mathieson, said in the newsletter: “This case represents a significant step in our ongoing efforts to protect the investment made by New Zealand producers in licensed kiwifruit varieties, as well as the interests of our customers and consumers.”

Zespri's battle against unauthorised kiwifruit activities in China has been ongoing for several years. Notably, in 2020, the company secured a victory in a New Zealand High Court case against Opotiki grower Haoyu Gao for illegally smuggling gold kiwifruit cuttings to China.

Despite this win, Zespri now estimates that there are approximately 7850 hectares of unauthorised Gold3 plantings in the country.

The Chinese case is scheduled to commence in mid-September.

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