A federal jury in Delaware has determined that the Indian agrochemical maker UPL and its Decco US Post-Harvest subsidiary stole technology from AgroFresh that keeps apples, pears, and other fruit fresh long after harvest. The jury awarded AgroFresh $31 million; UPL says it will appeal.
The dispute concerns the use of 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), a synthetic gas used to delay fruit spoilage. Fruit starts the ripening process by releasing ethylene gas, and growers can slow ripening by adding 1-MCP to storage facilities, where the gas binds to fruit’s ethylene receptors and blocks the effects of ethylene.
Researchers at North Carolina State University discovered 1-MCP in 1994. AgroFresh, a 2015 spin-off of Dow Chemical, pioneered development of the molecule.
According to court documents, a onetime AgroFresh consultant developed a new generation of 1-MCP technology for fruit preservation and licensed patents to Decco in 2016. AgroFresh, however, successfully argued that it owned the new technology because of agreements it had in place with the consultant.
For its part, UPL “believes that the evidence and arguments presented to the jury do not support a finding of any liability,” says Chief Financial Officer Anand Vora. The company intends to challenge the jury’s decision before the judge overseeing the case and to appeal to a higher court if necessary.
AgroFresh says it will ask the court to treble the compensatory damage award of $7 million because the jury determined UPL’s infringement of the technology was willful.