Delano Farms Co. v. Cal. Table Grape Comm'n, No. 14-1030 (Fed. Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
The USDA, owner of the patents on the table grape varieties Scarlet Royal and Autumn King, has exclusively licensed the patents to the California Table Grape Commission, which sublicenses to California grape growers and collects royalties that are shared by the Commission and the USDA. The licensing agreements require the growers to pay a royalty on grapes produced and prohibit the growers from propagating the plants. Growers who purchased grapevines covered by the patents, signed license agreements, and paid the fee, challenged the validity and enforceability of the patents, and the conduct of the Commission and the USDA in licensing and enforcing the patents. They argued that the grape varieties were in public use more than one year before the applications for both patents were filed, and that the patents are invalid under 35 U.S.C. 102(b). After the Federal Circuit held that the Administrative Procedure Act waives sovereign immunity for purposes of such an action against the USDA, the district court held that the actions of two individuals who obtained samples of the plants in an unauthorized manner and planted them in their own fields did not constitute an invalidating public use of the plant varieties. The Federal Circuit affirmed.