Washington State University and the Cosmic Crisp apple’s management company have filed a federal lawsuit against a nursery and grafting company for propagating trees without a license.
In the patent infringement complaint, filed June 22 in U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington, Proprietary Variety Management of Yakima, Washington, accuses Angel’s Grafting and Nursery of propagating WA 38 trees, which produce the apples trademarked Cosmic Crisp, without a license and selling them to growers who don’t hold licenses.
The WA 38 was bred and remains owned by WSU. Proprietary Variety Management, or PVM, has been contracted to commercialize the apple by granting licenses to nurseries and farms.
The lawsuit accuses the owners of Angel’s Grafting and Nursery of Tieton, Washington, of propagating tens of thousands of trees for multiple growers since 2016 while knowing they did not have a license to do so. One grower destroyed his trees to avoid being implicated in the lawsuit, the complaint said.
Growers in Washington, who have at least 10 years of exclusive North American access to the tree, have invested roughly half a billion dollars in production. The apple hit retail shelves for the first time in December last year in limited quantities, though the industry expects 10.5 million boxes to reach the market in 2022.
The lawsuit is not the first over WA 38 licenses. In 2018, the university sued Seattle tissue culture startup Phytelligence for propagating without a license. A judge ruled in WSU’s favor and Phytelligence has since closed and declared bankruptcy.
—by Ross Courtney