Federal court rules no copyright protection for pesticide labels

Company wins ruling against Syngenta but faces patent infringement allegations.

Krissa Welshans 1, Feedstuffs Editor

April 19, 2017

2 Min Read
Federal court rules no copyright protection for pesticide labels

A recent federal court ruling has national implications for the crop protection industry, according to Willowood USA LLC.  

In an April 10 ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina held that pesticide labels are not subject to copyright protection. Until then, the only other federal court decision, issued in 2006, had ruled in favor of the basics and held that copyright protection applies.

In the latest ruling, however, Willowood said the court found the prior decision to be “unconvincing” and held that federal pesticide law “contemplates that a (generic) applicant will copy from the original pesticide label in ways that would otherwise infringe a copyright.”

Brian Heinze, president and chief executive officer of Willowood, said, “We are very pleased that there is finally a federal court decision that corrects the prior court decision. This ruling should put a stop to the baseless and anticompetitive efforts of the basic manufacturers to use the copyright laws as a means to fight generic competition. The generics and (the Environmental Protection Agency) have always believed that copyright laws do not apply to pesticide labels.”

Willowood also said intends to vigorously defend itself against Syngenta’s remaining allegations that it infringed two valid U.S. patents owned by Syngenta relating to the fungicide azoxystrobin (U.S. Patent No. 5,602,076 and U.S. Patent No. 5,633,256).

The court found that, before engaging in the infringing activities, Willowood knew of Syngenta’s patents and knew that its activities would likely infringe the patents.

Vern Hawkins, Syngenta regional director in North America, notes: “This is an important victory for Syngenta and, ultimately, for farmers, because it preserves intellectual property rights that create incentive for continued innovation from companies like ours. We intend to continue protecting our significant investments in developing and commercializing crop protection products such as azoxystrobin.”

Damages for Willowood’s infringement will be assessed at trial scheduled for later this year, Syngenta said.

Heinze responded to the ruling, saying, “The court recently ruled that Willowood infringed two Syngenta patents when it imported just 5 kg of azoxystrobin for purposes of testing and formulation. However, Willowood never sold any azoxystrobin until after those patents expired in February 2014. We welcome the opportunity to prove in court that Willowood has never infringed any Syngenta patent in connection with the sale of any product.”

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