Court Rules in Favor of Canada on Motion to Dismiss in Cherry Tree Patent Suit

On Wednesday, an Eastern District of Washington judge ruled not to dismiss patent claims Canada filed against fruit tree companies and cherry tree growers. Canada claimed that the Glory Tree breached the patent owned by Canada for the Staccato tree, and that the two sweet cherry trees are the same type of tree. The Staccato tree is unique because its sweet cherries mature later and allow an extended harvest, which gives “a distinct financial advantage” to growers. 

The Canadian government filed the complaint in May 2020 and explained that the plaintiffs had access to the Staccato breed after the Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (AAFC) gave Van Well Nursery a Staccato tree for testing, but specifically said they were not allowed to distribute or sell the breed of cherry tree. The complaint purported that Van Well Nursery sold one Staccato tree to Gordon Goodwin, along with Sonata trees that he purchased. Goodwin reportedly then noticed one tree was different and filed a patent for it calling it Glory Tree. The complaint was filed against Van Well Nursery, Monson Fruit Company, and Gordon and Sally Goodwin. 

The Order denying the motion to dismiss said that the order follows a videoconference hearing on the motion on January 8 where oral arguments were heard. The defendants argued that the case should be dismissed for “failure to join a necessary party.” They claimed that either Summerland Varieties Corporation, the Canadian Company which provided the license for the Staccato Trees to AAFC, should be joined as a plaintiff or statutory standing for patent claims is not met and the lawsuit should be dismissed. 

The defendants also argued that because of the commercialization agreements between the plaintiff and Summerland Varieties Corporation, not requiring the joinder would “cause prejudice, risk inconsistent liabilities and multiple litigation, and put (the defendant’s customers) at risk of further infringement suits.” 

In response, Canada argued that it has standing to file the patent claims without the joinder, but that Summerland Varieties Corporation was willing to join as a plaintiff if the Court determines that it is necessary. 

The Eastern District of Washington ruled that the plaintiff had “all substantial rights to the () Staccato patent” and that Summerland Varieties Corporation did not need to be joined in the case. The court also said that the defendants “failed to show” that they would be at risk without the joinder since Summerland said it would not file a separate lawsuit. 

The plaintiff, Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, is represented by Dentons US and Paine Hamblen. Van Well Nursery and Sally and Gordon Goodwin are represented by Davis Arneil Law Firm and Tbillick Law. Monsoon Fruit Co is represented by Lowe Graham Jones