U.S.: UC Davis wins jury verdict in strawberry case

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U.S.: UC Davis wins jury verdict in strawberry case

Jurors in a San Francisco Federal Court have sided with the University of California, Davis, in a long-running dispute with a renowned plant scientist credited with developing strawberry varieties there. 

The jurors said on Wednesday that professor Douglas Shaw broke the law when he and his research partner tried to profit from their work in a company they formed, according to the LA Times.

Shaw first sued the leading agricultural research university after he retired, claiming the school unfairly kept some of his work locked in a freezer, depriving the world of a better strawberry. 

He reportedly sought US$45 million, saying the university destroyed much of his work.

The university then countersued, saying the professor stole the school's intellectual property by taking some of the fruits of his research with him when he created his own company, the LA Times reported.

The berries developed in UC Davis’ greenhouses generate roughly half of California’s $2 billion-a-year strawberry crop, and have produced tens of millions of dollars in royalty payments for the university over the years, according to The Sacramento Bee.

“This federal jury decision is good news for public strawberry breeding at UC Davis and all strawberry farmers throughout California and the world,” Helene Dillard, dean of UC Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, was quoted as saying in a statement.

"Both sides are to blame."

However, court documents show that Federal Judge Vince Chhabria of San Francisco had heavy words for both parties following the jury's verdict.

"Now, I have something to say," he began.

He proceeded to criticize the university, saying although he accepted the jury’s verdict against the professors, the trial had come about because of both parties' bad conduct. 

"I've listened to the evidence in this case. And I can tell you that both sides are to blame for this dispute," he said.

"Clearly, in my view, the defendants conducted themselves inappropriately -- and the jury's verdict reflects that they conducted themselves inappropriately -- but I believe that the University conducted itself inappropriately, as well."

He clarified he was not referring to litigation conduct, but rather the conduct that gave rise to the dispute.

"It's obvious from the evidence that we heard at trial that the University did not know what was going on with the Strawberry Breeding Program, and did not have a good understanding of the scope of its own rights with respect to the strawberry plants, and did not communicate well with professors or with the Department at UC Davis about its intentions with respect to the Strawberry Breeding Program," he said.

"We're here now with a trial in federal court about UC's strawberry program, almost as much because of the University's bad conduct as the defendants' bad conduct."

The next stage of the trial is the injunctive-relief phase, during which Chhabria will decide "what the appropriate remedy is, and how the strawberry plants are handled going forward."

Photo: www.shutterstock.com



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