Some farmers in the No. 1 strawberry-growing state are worried that the battle between the University of California, Davis, and one of its retired professors is going to stymie research and cause them to lose their competitive edge.
FRESNO, Calif. — Plant scientist Douglas Shaw spent his career toiling in the fields in California to grow the perfect strawberry, one that was plump and bright red yet remained sweet even after the long trip to grocery stores across the country.
When the professor retired from the University of California, Davis, and set up his own strawberry-breeding business, though, he found himself in a legal jam.
In a case set for trial in federal court later this month, the university is suing Shaw and his scientific partner, saying they stole the school’s intellectual property by taking some of the fruits of their research with them.
The two scientists claim in a $45 million lawsuit of their own that the university has unfairly kept some of their work locked in a freezer and is depriving the world of a better strawberry.
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Some farmers in the No. 1 strawberry-growing state are worried the battle is going to stymie research and cause them to lose their competitive edge. California last year produced 1.6 million tons of strawberries valued at roughly $2 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good for the university to keep these strawberry plants in a box,” said Rick McKnight, an attorney for the two former professors. “This is hurting the California strawberry industry in a major way.”
Shaw, 63, is a giant in the strawberry world, heading the university’s lucrative breeding program for more than two decades alongside fellow plant biologist Kirk Larson. Most of California’s strawberry farmers grow plants developed by Shaw and Larson.
The two men developed 24 new varieties, allowing…