THE chairman of the Australian Table Grape Association chair has stepped down over breaches of intellectual property and contractual rights concerning vine varieties outside his licence.
Sunraysia grape grower, John Argiro, stood down from both chair and board member roles last month after an audit of his property uncovered plantings of Sun World International's proprietary varieties beyond those allowed under its licence.
Mr Argiro stated in a letter to the ATGA board that he did not "wish to subject the ATGA to unnecessary scrutiny" following "breaches to grower licence agreements".
"I support the role that Sun World and other plant breeders play in the industry, understanding the protection of their rights is paramount," Mr Argiro said.
The Californian-based Sun World, which did not name Mr Argiro, reached a settlement of the dispute which included the removal of unauthorised vines and payments to Sun World totalling more than $325,000.
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Sun World's Australia licencing manager, Adam Knoll, said while it was pleasing to draw the matter to a close without court action, it was unsatisfactory to have a grower acting outside of the licence terms and acting in breach of plant breeders rights.
"Our action should also demonstrate to the industry that Sun World is avidly both monitoring the market and enforcing its rights," Mr Knoll said.
In a statement, the ATGA board said it did not condone breaches of intellectual property (IP) or contractual rights, and has accepted Mr Argiro's resignation.
Plant breeder's rights are integral to the continued development of the table grape industry, the ATGA board said.
"The role of proprietary breeders in developing new high quality table grape varieties drives growth within the industry, fosters stronger market access and continued investment into innovation Australia-wide," the board said.
"Such steps are necessary to protect not only our own business but also to protect other stakeholders' investments both within Australia, as in this instance, and globally.
"The ATGA board respects the right of commercial breeders to protect their varieties.
"The board does not condone infringements of IP and agreement rights. Australian table grape growers who lease or are licensed to grow IP protected varieties are well aware of their responsibilities."
ATGA deputy chair, Jeremey Boyd, has been appointed acting chair. Mr Boyd will lead the board until the ATGA's November annual general meeting, at which point a chair will be elected.
Sun World vice president licencing, Garth Swinburn, said to have to take any enforcement action was disappointing.
"However, such steps are necessary to protect not only our own business but also to protect other stakeholders' investments both within Australia, as in this instance, and globally," he said.
Sun World International varieties are marketed under various grape varietal brands such as Autumncrisp, Midnight Beauty, Sable Seedless, Adora Seedless, Scarlotta Seedless, Sophia Seedless and Superior Seedless.
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