Rijk Zwaan wins landmark case against illegal reproduction

Dutch seed company Rijk Zwaan has won a long-running infringement case against Italian company Agriseeds. Having concluded for illegal reproduction of lettuce variety Ballerina RZ, the court of Milan has ordered Agriseeds to pay Rijk Zwaan EUR205,701 plus re-evaluation, interests and legal costs.

Rijk Zwaan has been fighting infringement of Ballerina RZ since 2005, when sales representatives from Rijk Zwaan Italia noticed a similar-looking variety in the market: Criolla, sold by Agriseeds. Rijk Zwaan suspected that Ballerina, which is protected by a plant breeders’ right, was being reproduced without permission and sold under a different name. After Rijk Zwaan’s own DNA tests had confirmed this suspicion, the company initiated legal proceedings against Agriseeds on 23 June 2006.

Restitution of infringer’s profits
In January 2011, the Italian court finally decided that Agriseeds had indeed infringed Rijk Zwaan’s rights, and the company was entitled to damages. During the subsequent case to decide the damage award, Agriseeds was deemed to have made an unjustified profit of EUR205,701 by selling Criolla seeds. On 25 October 2012, the court ultimately ordered Agriseeds to return said unjustified profits to Rijk Zwaan, increased of monetary re-evaluation, interests, legal costs and costs of the court experts involved.

Landmark case
On behalf of Rijk Zwaan, company lawyer Marian Suelmann says that she is very happy with this result, especially since the number of illegal reproductions of vegetable crops seems to be on the rise. “Cases like this are undoubtedly complicated and time-consuming, but this example shows that fighting infringement in court can indeed be successful,” states Suelmann.

Rijk Zwaan hopes that this positive outcome will motivate other seed companies to pursue infringement cases too. Suelmann continues: “We have a common goal in protecting plant breeders’ rights, to ensure that seed companies are rewarded for their investments, which in turn are necessary in order to continue developing new and improved plant varieties.”