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Seizures of illegal strawberries in EU ports

On the week of December 12, 2011, Ekland Marketing Company of California, Inc. (EMCO CAL) launched a major effort to enforce the intellectual property (IP) rights of the owners of strawberry varieties. Some growers in Egypt had produced strawberries from pirated planting stock and shipped it to buyers in several European Union countries.

Working closely with EU customs officials and legal teams in four countries, EMCO CAL blocked over thirty deliveries of the illegally grown fruit. The enforcement procedures relied on existing EU regulations. These rules subject fruit products produced from pirated plant material to confiscation upon entry into any of the member countries. University of Florida’s Florida Festival strawberry variety produced in Egypt for export to the EU.

A spokesperson for EMCO CAL noted that for the past three years the company has worked with its master licensee in Egypt to structure a reasonable licensing system for the Egyptian strawberry industry. Despite repeated attempts to negotiate licensing agreements, a number of growers in Egypt continued to openly propagate plants without a license. They subsequently exported the fresh strawberries to the high value markets in the UK and other countries in the EU.

“The failure of the Egyptian growers to respect the IP rights of the owner of the strawberry variety,” EMCO CAL stated, “challenges the entire system of variety protection and plant breeder rights in the EU. It places legitimate firms at a competitive disadvantage and encourages plant pirating in other countries.”

EMCO CAL’s Representative, José Jon Garcia inspecting fieldsin Egypt.

EMCO CAL gave the companies whose fruit shipments were interdicted in the EU an opportunity to enter into license agreements that legitimized their exports for the 2011 - 12 season. With few exceptions, the companies paid the required fees and signed licenses. Other firms, who had not yet exported, voluntarily approached EMCO CAL’s representative in Egypt to negotiate licenses. By the end of the season, over 40 firms had signed licensing agreements and paid the required fees and royalties.

Over the coming months, EMCO CAL will schedule meetings with Egyptian growers and fruit marketers to explain the licensing procedures for the 2012 -13 season. The company notes that improved IP compliance will open market opportunities for the Egyptian growers and reduce the risk of interdiction of fruit shipments in the coming season.

“By working with the Egyptian licensees,” EMCO CAL stated, “we reduce the need for intervention in the market place and facilitate the movement of fresh fruit from Egypt.”

The company spokesperson added that EMCO CAL is prepared to introduce several new fruit cultivars once the Egyptian growers demonstrate their willingness to work within the IP norms of the international community. With offices in California and Europe, EMCO CAL represents the University of Florida strawberry variety development program, a leader in the international strawberry industry.

University of Florida varieties account for over eighty percent of the strawberry acreage in Egypt. EMCO CAL’s enforcement the University’s IP rights signals a new stage in variety protection. “What we have learned about tracking and interdicting illegal fruit shipments,” the spokesperson for EMCO CAL stated, “gives us a strong foundation on which to build our enforcement efforts in problem countries such as Mexico. This is the opening gambit in an effort to better control plant pirating.”

For more information:
Mamen Sánchez
Tel: +34 627 35 32 13
Tel: + 212 (0) 6 49 21 49 96
mamen@emcocal.com

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