An unnamed farming operation from southern Alberta has agreed to pay a penalty of nearly $738,000 in what is being billed as the largest plant breeders rights infringement settlement ever reached in Canada.
The settlement was reached after the farming operation conceded to making unauthorized advertisements and illegal sales of PBR-protected wheat and barley varieties that were licensed to Alliance Seeds, SeCan and one other seed distribution company operating in Western Canada.
The cash settlement will cover the full value of uncollected seed royalties as well as a portion of the legal and investigative costs associated with the case.
The farm, which sold seed from six PBR protected varieties to other commercial grain farmers in southern Alberta, has also agreed to cease all unauthorized sales of PBR protected seed varieties in the future.
In an interview, SeCan’s western Canadian business manager, Todd Hyra, declined to share the names of the farming operation or the seed varieties involved.
“I can’t share the variety names but there were half a dozen varieties involved in the overall case,” Hyra said.
“We are pleased to finally put this one to rest,” he added in a news release.
“It (the agreement) has been in the works for five years and covers sales spanning six seasons.”
Hyra said the case involved a large commercial farming operation that saw an opportunity to sell seed illegally to friends and neighbours.
The dollar value of the settlement was nearly three times more than that of the previous largest PBR infringement case ever settled in the country.
Hyra said PBR infringement cases have become less common over the past few years. Approximately five settlements are reached each year involving SeCan varieties, compared to around a dozen just a few years ago.
Jim Bagshaw, general manager with Alliance Seed, said it is critical that everyone in the value chain is aware of the rules under PBR ’91.
Potential liabilities for damages do not end with the seller. Damages can also be sought from buyers of illegally marketed seed, processors, and anyone else who played a part in the infringement, Bagshaw added.
“Infringers need to be aware: it is not just a matter of paying royalties owing when you get caught. Settlement normally includes royalties, investigative and legal costs, and other damages, which can result in very substantial payments,” he said.
“If a variety is protected by PBR, it is protected, whether you call it common seed or if you call it by the variety name.”
Hyra said it’s important to publicize that unauthorized sales of PBR protected varieties will not be tolerated, even if all the details of the case are never disclosed to the public.
“If we want access to the best genetics in the world — whether they are developed here in Canada or come from somewhere else in the world — we need to be sure that the developers are rewarded for their efforts,” he said.
Plant breeding programs are funded from a range of sources. Royalties on seed sales reward a breeding program for the products it has developed and encourage investment in new and improved varieties.
This case involved not only sales of protected varieties but also custom seeding of a protected variety, which is also illegal under current PBR regulations.
“This is an example of how the seed industry needs to work together to continue to educate and enforce PBR to ensure we have a robust breeding network in Canada working for producers,” Hyra said.
The Canadian Plant Technology Agency, now a division of Seeds Canada, was integral in helping build this case and continues to lead the industry in protection of intellectual property, he added.
“Anyone selling seed (illegally) needs to take note of the implications and cease illegal sales immediately,” Hyra said.