Zespri sues Chinese kiwifruit growers for $30m

Kiwifruit exporter Zespri is seeking $30m in damages from parties it alleges were involved in illegally taking two of its varieties of 'gold' fruit to China.

Zespri has told the High Court at Auckland that two individuals and a company, which can't yet be named, breached its intellectual property in agreements which purported to offer its gold kiwifruit varieties for growing across the whole of China.

The 2012 agreement involved an entity whose orchards Zespri claims have been growing the G3 and G9 varieties of gold kiwifruit at four locations.  Zespri, which accounts for 30 percent of the global kiwifruit market, has commercial rights to the varieties. China is a large consumer of the fruit.

Its action under the Plant Varieties Rights Act asks the court for an injunction to stop the infringement and for damages around $30 million, which equates to the 2016 value of such fruit multiplied by the 167 hectares of orchards it alleges have been producing them in China.

Zespri says one of the respondents to its action signed an agreement offering to sell the gold fruit plants to one of the other parties in August 2012 for 10 million Chinese renminbi. Zespri says it developed the varieties as part of its ongoing research collaboration with NZ Plant and Food Research.

The New Zealand single-seller obtained DNA from the Chinese orchards which it says prove they are using its special gold varieties.

The case, before Justice Sarah Katz, started today and will hear from senior Zespri officials, including one who went to China to investigate the orchards' vines.

Zespri's lawyer, Laura O'Gorman, told the court she was confident the infringements could be proven, even on matters already agreed by the respondents. She said whether one of them took the kiwifruit plants to China on his person or in some other manner, the agreed evidence was enough under the law.

An unauthorised offer to sell, whether completed or not, infringed the law, she said.

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