Wednesday, June 23, 2010

U's Under the Table SweetTango Agreement

"A travesty of a mockery of a sham?"

From the Daily:

“It was absolutely signed before many of the apple growers even knew about [the deal],” said the growers’ attorney Lisa Lamm Bachman. “I think one of the big questions is, how is it that Pepin Heights came to be the only grower to receive the exclusive licensing agreement for this new variety … that’s a question that needs to be asked of the U.”

The apple’s public debut was last September, two months before the University’s Honeycrisp patent expired.

The University has also been urged by political leaders to use revenue from its intellectual property to help fund further discoveries, University spokesman Dan Wolter said.

[That Dan Wolter?]

On top of collecting royalties on sales of the apple, the exclusive sales rights to the SweeTango were sold to Pepin Heights, who in turn limited the number of trees allowed to any given orchard. This level of control angered several local orchards.

Apple growers agreed the University was doing a fine job marketing the new apple, but that it came at the expense of local growers because Pepin Heights allowed only 1,000 Minneiska trees, which bear the SweeTango, per orchard.

It is typical for a larger orchard to plant between 4,000 and 5,000 trees of a popular apple.

We looked at this particular apple differently than other apples,” Jim Rhodes, assistant business development specialist at the University, said last fall.

[Some apples are more equal than other apples?]

Rhodes said the aim was to better control the distribution of the apple so the University could control its quality and that by capping the number of trees allowed per orchard, the University was helping to level the field for smaller orchards.

[The orchardists don't appear to think so...]

Soon, however, many orchards took offense and began to organize. They formalized their complaints in a lawsuit filed last week.

“This agreement is unprecedented in terms of the exclusive licensing piece of it,” Bachman said. “The concern is this agreement will have a negative impact on the Minnesota apple growers and the Minnesota apple industry."

The coup de grâce was administered by a commenter:

Right now, apple production is not economically significant in Minnesota, and Minnesota is not significant in this nation's apple production. By restricting most orchards in the state from full production of what likely will be the most profitable cultivar adapted to Minnesota (for the next 10 or 15 years anyway), it would seem that the University's goal is to prevent growth in Minnesota apple growing. Talk about your land grant mission!

Administrations and Regents (present AND past) deserve blame for this sorry episode by allowing intellectual property to be sold in back room deals. Not one of the the current or recent Regents seems to have noticed that the 'Plant Licensing Task Force', requested by the state legislature in 2006 to look into licensing of this apple cultivar, was turned into a sham by the University. And now the University will no doubt turn all of this into a "travesty of a mockery of a sham".

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