Washington State University has filed a lawsuit accusing a fruit packer and associated orchard company of violating its patent for an apple cultivar.
The complaint alleges Pro Orchard Management of Yakima, Wash., propagated trees patented by WSU without permission and sold the apples through Apple King, an affiliated packer in Yakima, Wash.
The cultivar, WA 2, was developed in 1994 from a cross of the Splendour and Gala varieties by WSU professor Bruce Barritt, who obtained a patent for the new strain in 2011.
According to the patent, WA 2 is characterized by the “distinctive blush of its fruit” and its “firm, crisp and juicy” texture, which the apples retain even after two months of cold storage.
The lawsuit claims that WSU assigned the patent to its research foundation, which licensed it to farmers within a specific territory, including Keller Fruit, which is defunct.
Keller Fruit is owned by the same shareholders who own Pro Orchard Management and Apple King, but it’s a separate entity and the other companies don’t have any rights to grow WA 2 trees or sell the apples under a license agreement, according to WSU.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction against further infringement of WSU’s patent rights as well as triple the damages caused by the earlier infringement, as permitted by federal law.
Capital Press was unable to reach a representative of the defendants as of press time.
Phil Weiler, WSU's vice president of marketing and communications, said the university filed the lawsuit as a matter of principle.
"From our perspective, if we believe our intellectual property is being violated, we have a duty to protect it," Weiler said.
Last year, WSU settled a lawsuit over its “Cosmic Crisp” apple cultivar with a company launched by one of its horticulture professors.
Phytelligence, the company, agreed not to commercialize any Cosmic Crisp trees under the settlement deal, though it was allowed to keep those it had previously propagated.
The company had previously lost a counterclaim against WSU alleging that it had been blocked from commercializing the variety in violation of a contract agreement.