The Beni Suef Economic Court in Egypt has recently ordered the removal of nearly five hectares of illegally grown Early Sweet™ grapevines, totaling 9000 vines and associated seedlings. The farm owner did not have a license to grow or commercialize the Early Sweet™ grapes and was found to be infringing the intellectual property (IP) rights held by Grapa Varieties Ltd. The case against the farm owner was won by Grapa, which specializes in breeding and licensing premium table grape varieties under the ARRA™ and Early Sweet™ brands. The particular IP right at issue was a plant breeders’ right (PBR) owned by Grapa.
PBRs are similar to other forms of IP, such as patents, but are a sui generis form of IP protection available in many countries specifically for plant varieties. Egypt introduced its national plant variety protection system in 2002 under Law 82. Although negotiations regarding an association agreement for Egypt to be considered for membership in the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) began in 1995, Egypt did not accede to UPOV until 2019, after establishing compliance with the 1991 revised version of the UPOV Convention.
Grapa Varieties Ltd. previously dealt with illegal grape exports into Europe in June 2021 when illegally exported grapes were seized in a port and destroyed. However, the new removal order is the first instance when enforcement has protected the PBRs at the origin of the fruit inside Egypt. The Beni Suef Economic Court ruling thus reflects a significant expansion in the industry protection of PBRs in Egypt, and comes as part of a wider crackdown on illegal fruit exports. This crackdown has been assisted by a decree issued last year by Egypt’s Minister of Agriculture, H.E. El-Sayed El-Quseir, which requires all farms to be registered and assessed before gaining the right to export. Infringements, such as from the propagation, sale, display, or export of the variety without a license, now result in a fine and the possibility of a custodial sentence.
The order from the Beni Suef Economic Court demonstrates the commitment of Egypt’s phytosanitary authorities to protect the rights of plant breeders and their legitimate licensees within the country. The outcome of this case is likely to resonate throughout the export industry, as repeated incidents of export seizures incur significant financial losses for exporters, and negatively impact Egypt’s international reputation in the agricultural sector. Given that Egypt exports around 150,000 tonnes of grapes a year and has cornered the market as the world’s largest exporter of fresh oranges, relying on seizures at the export stage to protect plant IP would be worrying and expensive. The protection afforded through PBRs within Egypt is thus instrumental in ensuring that the IP holder does not experience a loss in revenue caused by illegal production and importation. Sources believe the citrus market is next in line for the IP shake-up.
The well-publicized protection of Grapa’s PBRs by the Court will boost breeders’ confidence that pursuing illegal plantations, nurseries, and exporters in Egypt is not only achievable, but is expected of the phytosanitary authorities. This will have the additional benefit of strengthening Egypt’s image in international markets, thus improving Egypt’s ability to access new protected plants and create a healthy climate for breeders to invest in Egypt.