Occasionally, you’ll read about growers who’ve been caught propagating cuttings illegally. But in many cases, those growers may get away with a slap on the wrist. Proven Winners North America takes a different approach. In the most recent year alone, Proven Winners, through Royalty Administration International (RAI), caught 137 growers illegally propagating its plants. And it is taking even more aggressive steps in the coming year to protect its breeders and the integrity of the industry.
Since 2000, Proven Winners has levied assessments of more than $1 million against illegal propagators. To discourage illegal propagation, Proven Winners recently increased its illegal propagation fine from $1 to $2 per cutting. And RAI, an organization providing patent and royalty enforcement support to Proven Winners North America, flower breeders and other plant marketers, will be increasing the number of grower visits it makes with better territorial management and the hiring of additional field representatives.
Besides paying a fine, growers caught illegally propagating Proven Winners plant varieties must continue to destroy illegally propagated plants in the presence of RAI reps.
“The number of illegal propagators has most likely remained fairly constant over the past few years” says Mark Broxon, executive director of Proven Winners. “However, the number of illegal discoveries has increased because RAI has been adding field reps to better monitor enforcement activities.”
Both Proven Winners’ and RAI’s enforcement activities play a large role in the protection of plant breeders and their rights. Doing this ensures the continued availability of great new plants from breeders to all growers. And this also serves to protect the interests of the majority of growers themselves, who are honest and pay the royalty and marketing fees associated with protected plants.
Most illegal propagators of Proven Winners plants are first-time offenders, Broxon says. Proven Winners has a tiered system of consequences for growers who propagate illegally. If growers pay the penalty and destroy the plant the first time they’re caught, Proven Winners will continue to ship to them. If growers are caught a second time, besides paying the fine and having the illegal plants dumped, they’ll go on an illegal propagator list, and Proven Winners’ propagators automatically stop shipping to them for a minimum of three years. They are also subject to possible legal action.
“In reality, I think you see a lot of people who do learn a lesson,” Broxon says. “But there are no doubt illegal propagators that have not been caught yet.”
RAI cannot visit every greenhouse each year. Sam Rizzi, manager of Royalty Administration International, estimates RAI visits about 2,500 greenhouses per year. Still, that means there’s a chance of growers receiving a visit from an RAI rep, and you would think that chance alone would deter growers from considering the illegal propagation of even a single cutting.
Still, there are growers who continue to circumvent the system despite the consequences. For example, just recently a lawsuit filed about two years ago by Proven Winners against an illegal propagator in Southern Washington was closed out–the fifth illegal propagation lawsuit filed by Proven Winners. In this particular case, the grower admitted to illegal propagation yet refused to pay the fine.
“The interesting thing is this particular grower spent about 10 times more money defending their lawsuit than they could have by paying us the fine we asked for,” Broxon says.
This particular case was, in some sense, an extreme example of illegal propagation, but Proven Winners believes others could follow its example in being more aggressive in their handling of illegal propagators.
“We all need to do the best possible job of protecting the breeder and the honest grower,” Broxon says. “For example, allowing illegal propagators to pay the royalties on illegal material and then allowing them to continue to sell the plants is a bit of a slap on the wrist. And somebody’s going to continue doing it.
“In our case, I think we’re putting teeth into our enforcement program. Two dollars an illegal cutting should be a strong deterrent, and the plant goes into the dumpster if RAI finds it.”