Strawberry Patent Rights, Forever

by Lane Powell PC - Food, Beverage and Hospitality Law Blog
Contact

 Ripe strawberries define lusciousness.  Fragile, with fleeting taste, these heart-shaped berries inspired Shakespeare’s pen: “The strawberry grows underneath the nettle; and wholesome berries thrive and ripen best; neighbour’d by fruit of baser quality.”[1]  Regarded as an aphrodisiac in provincial France, newlyweds were served strawberry soup.

Bringing the perfect strawberry to market is the driving force behind an entire industry of growers and distributors.  Consumer surveys show that “sweetness” and “complex flavor” are the favorable attributes of an “ideal” strawberry experience.[2]  In the words of research scientists, “a ripe strawberry is metabolically poised to elicit the greatest sensory and hedonic responses from consumers.”[3]

With a product so flavorful and evocative, it is small wonder that strawberries continue to be an active source of patentable innovations.  This article examines some recent U.S. patents issued for strawberry varieties and their cultivation methods.

The Columbian Exchange

Strawberries originated in the Americas.  Native Americans crushed strawberries into cornmeal and created a precursor to strawberry shortcakes.  Through the Columbian Exchange, strawberries arrived on European shores.  They soon became an emblematic feature of the aristocratic dining table.  Jean de Quintinye, a gardener for Louis XIV, developed the first named variety of a musk strawberry known as the Capron in 1672. That strawberry variety is still available today.

New Strawberry Variety Plant Patents

One of the leading owners of U.S. strawberry variety plant patents is Driscoll Strawberry Associates, Inc., located in Watsonville, California.  Indeed, Driscoll’s founders patented the “Sweet Briar” strawberry—later known as the “Banner” strawberry—in the early 20th century.  Driscoll’s continues to patent new and distinct varieties of strawberries.  USPTO records show that the company has patented at least 86 different varieties of strawberry plants over time. The company’s website states that it studies “thousands of potential varieties” and that it takes 5-7 years to develop each new patented variety.

The most recent Driscoll’s strawberry plant patent issued on December 17, 2013, for a “Strawberry Plant Named ‘DrisStrawThirty’” (U.S. Plant Patent No. 24,096).  This new strawberry variety was discovered in Avitorejo, Spain in February 2007 and underwent testing for five years.  It is distinguishable from other strawberry varieties due to its high yield, dark red fruit color and large fruit with medium sweetness.

A second strawberry plant patent application filed by Driscoll’s on the same day as the ’096 patent did not fare as well.  The USPTO rejected the company’s patent application for a “Strawberry Plant Named ‘DrisStrawTwentyNine” because its specification presented “less than a full, clear, and complete botanical description of the plant and the characteristics which define same per se and which distinguish the plant from related known cultivars and antecedents.”  This strawberry plant had also been discovered in February 2007 in Avitorejo, Spain.  Perhaps because of the USPTO’s issuance of the “DrisStrawThirty” patent, the company abandoned the companion strawberry patent application for “DrisStrawTwentyNine.”

Closer to home, the Washington State University Research Foundation obtained a patent for a “Strawberry Plant Named Puget Crimson” (U.S. Plant Patent No. 22,781) in June 2012.  This strawberry is the result of a hand pollinated cross between “Schwartze” and “Valley Red” strawberry varieties.  The Puget Crimson “is distinguished by fruit that is large, firm and easily capped, with excellent flavor.”  The fruit ripens in late June.

Interestingly enough, a group of Seattle chefs taste-tested the strawberry varieties being developed by the Washington State University Research Foundation.  The one that came out on top—the Puget Crimson—was then known only as “No. 2833.”  Be sure to sample the Puget Crimson strawberry when it appears in your local grocery store or farmers’ market this summer![4]

Strawberry Plasticulture

While strawberries are visually and aromatically enticing, the strawberry fields on which they are grown are not.  As one author put it, strawberries “begin and end in plastic.”[5]  Commercial production of strawberries involves heavy use of plastic film mulches and drip irrigation/fertilization systems. This commercial production method is known in the industry as strawberry plasticulture.

Strawberries are also notoriously hard to harvest.  To migrant workers, they are known as la fruta del diablo, “the fruit of the devil.”  “Picking strawberries is some of the lowest paid, most difficult, and therefore least desirable farm work in California.”[6]  To the extent processing advancements can reduce the backbreaking toil of harvesting strawberries, patents are a natural means to protect such grower innovations.

Thus, the difficulties experienced in growing and harvesting strawberries can and do provide a fervent ground for patenting activities.  A recent example related to strawberry plasticulture is a “Process for Enhancing Plant Growth,” U.S. Patent No. 8,505,237, issued on August 13, 2013.  The ’237 patented invention involves incorporating one or more yellow pigments or dyes into plastic mulch film or greenhouse coverings so that specific ratios of light are transmitted, emitted or reflected.  Research underlying this invention shows that plants “see” colors very differently than humans do.  Spectral modifications of light can profoundly impact plant growth.  This patent is part of a large wave of patents directed to plasticulture technology.  See, e.g., “Stabilized Polyolefins Having Increased Agrochemical and UV Resistance and Methods of Use” (patent application published on October 10, 2013).

No End to Potential Strawberry Patents

Through cross-breeding of strawberry varieties and in light of heavy commercial reliance on plasticulture systems and methods for strawberry cultivation, the possibilities for strawberry-related patenting activities appear to be endless.  Truly, strawberry patents, forever.[7]

[1] William ShakespeareHenry V (c. 1599), Act I, scene 1, line 60.

[2] M. Schwieteman, et al., “Strawberry Flavor: Diverse Chemical Compositions, a Seasonal Influence, and Effects on Sensory Perception,” PLoS ONE 9(2): e88446.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088446 (published February 11, 2014).

[5] E. Schlosser, “In the Strawberry Fields,” from the Atlantic Monthly online (accessed on 3/4/14).  The article focuses on the hardships encountered by migrant workers harvesting strawberries in California.

[6] Id.

[7] Most readers will immediately recognize the weak pun related to the famous Beatles psychedelic pop/rock song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.”  The Beatles’ song hit the airwaves in February 1967 as a double A-side single with “Penny Lane.”  “Strawberry Fields” refers to the name of a Salvation Army children’s home near John Lennon’s boyhood home in Liverpool, England.  John’s mother forbade him from playing with his friends in the wooded lot behind the Salvation Army’s children’s home.  They would play there anyway.  Lennon would tell his mum that they couldn’t hang you for being there, hence, there was “nothing to get hung about.”  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strawberry_Fields_Forever.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Lane Powell PC - Food, Beverage and Hospitality Law Blog | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Lane Powell PC - Food, Beverage and Hospitality Law Blog
Contact
more
less

Lane Powell PC - Food, Beverage and Hospitality Law Blog on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.