Two top Chinese seed companies start $47 mln plant variety dispute

China’s Anhui High People’s Court on April 11 agreed to decide a plant breeders’ rights dispute between Chinese public company Winall Hi-Tech Seed Co., Ltd. (安徽荃银高科种业股份有限公司) and Yuan Longping High-Tech Agriculture Co., Ltd. (袁隆平农业高科技股份有限公司) and its wholly-owned subsidiary Hunan Longping High-Tech Seeds Industry Co., Ltd. (湖南隆平种业有限公司) over a rice variety “Wushansimiao (Chinese: 五山丝苗).” Winall filed the lawsuit with the Hefei Intermediate People’s Court of Anhui province in July 2021 and amended the complaint seeking 300 million yuan ($47 million) in damages after Longping High-Tech countersued it four months later. The high court took over the jurisdiction over the case upon being consulted by the lower court.


Yuan Longping founded Longping High-Tech in 1999 and had it listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 2000. Jiangxi province native Yuan was a Chinese agronomist and member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and known for developing the first hybrid rice varieties in the 1970s, part of the Green Revolution in agriculture. Yuan, hailed as the “Father of Hybrid Rice” for his contributions, died in 2021. Hefei city, Anhui province-based Winall was founded in 2002 and obtained its first initial public offering on ChiNext of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 2010.


In the complaint, Winall accused Hunan Longping of using the asserted variety to derive 12 varieties without authorization, as it was not entitled to the license agreement signed between Winall and Longping High-Tech, Hunan Longping’s parent company, in 2016. The complaint said that Longping High-Tech was offered to pay Winall 1.2 million yuan ($190,000) for each new variety derived from the licensed Wushansimiao seed when it got examined and certified for commercialization by the authorities.


Winall said that the Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences licensed the exclusive rights to use the asserted variety CNA20090831.2 outside the scope of Guangdong province to it for a flat fee of 2.8 million yuan ($440,000) in 2011.


Longpin Hi-Tech filed a countersuit claiming that Hunan Longping, established in 2003, was specified to be part of its 2016 license agreement with Winall and Longping Hi-Tech had paid a total of 18 million yuan ($2.8 million) for 15 certified derivative varieties, 12 of which were developed by Hunan Longping, as royalty payments to Winall as of 2020.


Two of the allegedly infringing rice varieties “Longliangyou Wu San Si (Chinese: 隆两优534)” and “Jingliangyou Wu San Si (Chinese: 晶两优534)” developed by Hunan Longping are found to be among the top 10 most used hybrid rice varieties of the year of 2018 in China.


The fourth Amendments to the Seed Law of the People’s Republic of China (《中华人民共和国种子法》) on March 1 came into force. The Chinese government is attaching unprecedented significance to enforcement and protection of plant variety rights and other intellectual property rights in agriculture through legislative moves and administrative means.


The case docket no. is (2022)皖民辖89号, whose English transliteration is 89, assigned jurisdiction (辖), civil case (民), (2022) Anhui High People’s Court ((2022)皖).