Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Grape growers in San Joaquin Valley, Calif., were stunned last month when a fellow farmer sued them for patent infringement. The patent at issue covers a method of growing grapevines — specifically growing grapevines on an overhead trellis. In addition to several vineyard growers, Gary Pitts also sued the company that sells a particular trellis system. Growers say the suit is unprecedented among the vineyard community, where swapping farming techniques is a common practice. “Growers are incredibly cooperative,” said William Hebert, a partner in Coudert Brothers’ San Francisco office who represents Lion Raisins Inc., one of the defendants in the suit. “They go into each other’s fields to see what each other is doing.” But Pitts’ attorney says the man has a right to enforce his patent. “Just because it’s never been done before in the Central Valley doesn’t mean he’s obligated to share his invention for free,” said Michele Engnath of Fresno, Calif.’s Ryan & Engnath. She pointed out that Sun-Maid Growers also holds a patent on a growing technique — and although growers are able to use Sun-Maid’s method free of charge, they must deliver their raisins to the company. The suit is also unique in that the lead plaintiff — the company that sells the trellis system — is being sued for inducement and contribution of infringement. Engnath said the system can only be used to grow grapevines using Pitts’ patented method. “It’s a difficult suit from a legal perspective,” Engnath said. “It raises unique issues as to what is inducement [to infringe] and when is a patent on a growing method infringed.” Pitts obtained the patent in 1998, but only recently sought to enforce it. Engnath said it’s unclear whether infringement occurs when the method is used or when the first crop using the method appears. For their part, growers contend that the patent is invalid. The patented technique is “pretty obvious,” Hebert said, adding that overhead trellises have been used in Italy for thousands of years. But Engnath said Pitts’ system is different than the general so-called tendone system used in Italy. Pitts’ claim — that he is the sole inventor — is also in dispute. Hebert said the president of A&P, David Parrish, actually worked with Pitts and another grower to put together the trellis system. “Pitts went out without the consent of the others and filed a patent application,” he said. Engnath denied that allegation. The suit, Pitts Carbonic & AG Service Inc. v. A&P AG Structures Inc., 00-6936, seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction, an unspecified amount in damages, and an award of profits received by defendants from using the patent. A trial is scheduled for September in Fresno federal court. Engnath said Pitts has settled with some vineyard growers “based on a low amount per acre” and licensed rights to the patent to another grower for a “low amount.” For vineyard growers the case sets a disturbing precedent. Patenting of agricultural techniques could affect competition for growers in San Joaquin Valley and stifle innovation, Hebert said. “The patent suit is being brought at a time when growers are facing price competition from foreign imports and rising costs and this is an extra expense they can’t afford at this time,” he said.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.