Seed World

Cultivation of Protected Tomato Plants Farm Convicted in the Province of Ragusa

A year in prison and a 15,000 euro fine for the owner of the Dezio farm in Vittoria, as well as 70,000 euro in civil damages. It’s the first criminal sentence regarding new protected plant varieties, which creates a precedent in the seed market.

The Court of Ragusa sentenced Salvatore Dezio, owner of a farm in Vittoria, in the province of Ragusa, where he had four greenhouses cultivating a PBR protected tomato variety without the required authorization were found. A year’s imprisonment and a € 15,000 fine for having illegally reproduced tomato plants of a variety protected by Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) was handed down. This is the first ruling of its type in Italy.

The process began with a complaint filed by the AIB (Anti-Infringement Bureau for Intellectual Property Rights in Plant Material), an international association established under Belgian law whose objective is to fight against illegal activity in the seed sector. During the investigation DNA analysis was carried out on the Dezio company’s crops, which confirmed the presence of the PBR protected tomato variety in its greenhouses. The Ragusa financial police confirmed that the company was unable to provide purchase invoices for seedlings of the protected variety or other documentation demonstrating the legitimate origin of the seeds used.

The owner of the agricultural company was sentenced by the Court of Ragusa on 20 November, in accordance with Article 517 ter of the Criminal Code, which penalizes the “manufacture and trade of goods made by usurping industrial property rights.” In addition to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of € 15,000 the defendant will also be required to pay damages totaling € 70,000 to both the AIB and to the company that owns the Plant Breeders Rights on the tomato variety, that brought a civil action, represented respectively by lawyers Nicola Novaro and Rossella Pola.

The sentence creates a significant precedent in the seed sector, because it gives criminal significance to the widespread technique of reproducing plants covered by Plant Breeders’ Rights with cuttings or “stubs” of plants, a practice which can damage the protected rights of the owners of the varieties, under which each seed purchased must correspond to only one plant.

“We are very satisfied with the ruling,” explains Casper van Kempen, Managing Director of AIB. “Breeding companies invest on average between 20 and 25 per cent of net sales each year in research and development to produce improved varieties. It is important for the sustainability of the vegetable sector that these companies receive compensation for their work in order that they can continue their innovative efforts for the benefit of farmers, retailers and consumers. Furthermore, this verdict is important because it ensures level playing field for plant raisers and growers, preventing unfair competition between them.”

Source: Anti-Infringement Bureau for Intellectual Property Rights on Plant Material