Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Zespri sues kiwifruit pirates in China

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Marketer opens case in beefed-up IP court in Nanjing.
Zespri CEO Dan Mathieson says stronger plant protection intellectual property rules in China have enabled Zespri to take court action against two defendants involved in unauthorised Gold3 production.
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Zespri has filed a civil case in the intellectual property court in Nanjing, China against two defendants linked to the unauthorised production, sale and marketing of illegally grown SunGold Gold3 kiwifruit.

The action comes after China beefed up its intellectual property protection laws to make it easier for foreign companies to act and protect against forgery and breaches of IP use. 

It also marks another step in what is an ongoing saga for the kiwifruit marketer, following legal action also taken in New Zealand.

In February this year Zespri successfully applied to the High Court to liquidate a company owned by an individual found guilty of offering to sell Zespri Gold3 kiwifruit cuttings to Chinese growers.

Zespri sought $15 million in damages from Haoyu Gao, who had been found guilty of breaching the Plant Varieties Rights Act and illegally taking cuttings for sale.  This was later reduced to $12m. 

The ex-Ōpōtiki grower had propagated cuttings to sell to associates in China.

With the case before the intellectual property court in Nanjing, Zespri staff are unable to provide any further details of the defendants or their relationship, if any, to the case in NZ.

Zespri CEO Dan Mathieson told growers in a statement that the latest case is a significant step, enabled by the strengthened IP rules for China’s horticultural sector.

These include amendments to China’s seed law, enabling Zespri to act against those selling unauthorised SunGold fruit, rather than just those growing it.

He said Zespri’s most recent assessment is there is now that there are 7850ha of Gold3 SunGold fruit growing illegally in China, but the expansion has slowed. This compares closely to the area in SunGold in NZ.

With travel restrictions to China lifted, planning is now underway to send a NZ delegation to China to observe the current unauthorised Gold3 industry there.

Two years ago, kiwifruit growers voted down a plan to trial marketing illegally grown Gold3 fruit in China. 

The proposal, requiring 75% support, would have given Zespri the green light to continue with a commercial trial with growers in China already growing the fruit.

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