Seized berry shipment released as parties reach agreement

Seized berry shipment released as parties reach agreement
A South African blueberry producer, Ross Berries, embroiled in a dispute with plant breeder and exporter, United Exports, has claimed victory after two shipments of the fruit seized by Dutch authorities earlier were released this week. Photo: FW Archive
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Dutch authorities releasing two shipments of blueberries exported by Rossouw Boerdery Group’s subsidiary Ross Berries to the Netherlands, marks a victory for local farmers, according to a statement by the group.

The shipments were seized in the Port of Rotterdam in late October and early November, and followed a dispute between United Exports, a blueberry plant breeder and exporter, and the blueberry producer.

The shipments, amounting to 26t, were released on instruction of United Exports, after the company earlier alleged that Ross Berries had shipped and sold the blueberries without permission, a move that it said infringed upon its proprietary trademarks.

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An investigation also unearthed that United Exports only held registered plant breeders’ rights (PBR) for two of the nine varieties that Ross Berries acquired from United Exports South Africa, the company said.

According to Chris Rossouw, director of Ross Berries, he had instructed the company’s legal team to institute a claim against United Exports for the royalties paid to date for all the varieties that the breeder-exporter claimed it had registered PBRs.

He said claims would also be instituted for the financial losses suffered as a result of the seizure of the fruit in the Netherlands. Ongoing investigations into United Export’s operating practices would further serve to strengthen the case for uncompetitive pricing in this sector, he added.

“We are free to market our fruit as we wish until the dispute pertaining to ownership of the plants is finally determined in March 2021. Marketing one’s products as one sees fit is the very foundation of a free-market system, which up until now, United Exports has circumvented,” said Rossouw.

United Exports called the claim of victory “patently false” and a misinterpretation of the legal and commercial consequences of violating its proprietary rights. The grower-exporter maintained in a statement that the shipments of its blueberry varietals represented a license breach on the part of Ross Berries and the Rossouw Farming Group.

In a subsequent statement, United Exports said that it had reached an agreement with the Rossouw Farming Group which entailed, firstly, that both Rosle Berries and Ross Berries of the Rossouw Farming Group have recognised the plant-based intellectual property rights, and United Exports’ rights over its OZblu proprietary varieties.

According to the statement, United Exports agreed to allow Ross Berries to sell the blueberries from the remaining few weeks of the 2020 season that it produces on its Western Cape farm “to avoid unnecessary food wastage”.

The sales, however, could not use or leverage any of United Exports’ trademarks, trade names, brands, varietals or any related denomination. Furthermore, the statement said, when the 2020 season was over, the Rossouw Farming Group’s right to continue to produce United Exports’ OZblu proprietary blueberries would have to be newly agreed with United Exports, failing which the Rossouw Farming Group’s right to continue to produce United Export’s OZblu proprietary blueberry would terminate.

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