Jul 16, 2019 | Updated: 10:46 AM EDT

UC Scientists Lock Horns With School Over Strawberry Patent

May 16, 2017 02:31 PM EDT

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Strawberries
(Photo : Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Recently, strawberry scientists were slapped with legal suits for "taking away" the University of California's intellectual property.

University of California scientist Douglas Shaw and breeder Kirk Larson recently got into a legal tangle with UC at Davis. After retirement, the scientist was charged with 'stealing' strawberry breeds to grow a private business.

The scientists are dragged to a trial in a federal court. Shaw was sued by the school for "taking away" their "intellectual property." Even some fruits of their research were stolen, says the school.

On the other hand, UC scientist Douglas Shaw with fellow plant biologist Kirk Larson filed a $45 million lawsuit charging that the school stored some of its best work in a freezer. It thus stopped the better strawberries from being released, according to Foxla.

The conflict might prevent the strawberries from getting released. "It doesn't do anybody any good for the university to keep these strawberry plants in a box," said Rick McKnight, an attorney for the two UC scientists and former professors. "This is hurting the California strawberry industry in a major way."

The 63-year-old UC scientist Shaw as well as the plant biologist Kirk Larson are well-known strawberry breeders. Shaw has been heading the school's breeding program for two decades, with the fellow plant biologist Kirk Larson. The plants developed by the pair were released for breeding by California's strawberry farmers. Today more than half of California's 30,000 strawberry acres owe their success to UC Davis' painstaking research, according to LA Times.

Both UC scientist grew 24 new varieties, which enabled planters to grow twice the amount of strawberries. The breeders created the varieties that were pest-and-disease-resistant and also remained hardy and strong when they were transported over long distances. They were also grown further in the shorter spring and fall days. After retiring in 2014, the UC scientists said that UC Davis was "winding down" the program. As they worked in partnership with other nurseries, the breeders started the California Berry Cultivars, based in Watsonville. It helped to start new strawberry varieties. 

The UC scientists claimed that their work helped the university to make $100 million in royalties. While it is not known how much the scientists made at UC Davis, they did say that their own contribution was more than $9 million of their royalties for the school's breeding program.

The school accused the UC scientists of patent infringement as well as violating an oath to not take or acquire plants, seeds and other materials, or pursue their research with plants already cultivated at UC Davis. On the other hand, the UC scientists claim that they own the intellectual property. They charge the school of storing and destroying hundreds of plants, negating years of research.

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