Bitter, U asks judge to throw out lawsuit over SweeTango apple

A decision will be made about the case in the next three months.

Within the next three months, a judge will decide whether Minnesota apple growers will be allowed to continue their case against the University of Minnesota for the handling of its newest apple, the SweeTango.
If the court decides to hear the case, the subsequent ruling will have serious consequences on the apple industry and could impact future research and development at the University.
The disagreement stems from the way the University reached a deal with its partner Pepin Heights Orchard, which gives the orchard exclusive rights to market and distribute the Minneiska trees that bear the SweeTango apple.
After the attorneys for the University and Pepin Heights filed a motion to dismiss the case, both sides met Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court to argue whether Minnesota apple growers should be allowed to proceed with their case.
Minnesota apple growers accuse the University of making this exclusive deal without their knowledge.
Lisa Lamm Bachman, the growersâÄô attorney, said Tuesday that this type of agreement is not only unprecedented but also creates an âÄúunnatural monopolyâÄù because wholesale buyers are less willing to buy from orchards that carry little if any stock of the SweeTango âÄî an apple referred to as the âÄúHoneycrisp killerâÄù because it would be expected to outsell Honeycrisp apples.
The current University patent on the SweeTango would last for 20 years.
The University has maintained that the deal was done in both its best interests and in the consumersâÄô, as well as in a lawful manner. University attorney Tracy Smith said Tuesday that the agreement was done to protect the quality of the fruit by controlling how and where the trees are grown.
Any precedent set by this case could not only be applied to future agricultural patents but any patent developed by the University, Smith said.
Bachman said local growers have had a long-term relationship with the University, which has received about $8 million in royalties from apple sales.
Smith said the UniversityâÄôs research mission is to develop products and not to support a particular industry.
During TuesdayâÄôs proceedings, Hennepin County District Court Judge Lloyd B. Zimmerman took time to acknowledge the UniversityâÄôs apple expert Dave Bedford, who bred the SweeTango.
âÄúHe is like the Johnny Appleseed of the University,âÄù Zimmerman said. âÄúRegardless of how you feel about the rest of the case, he is a state treasure.âÄù
Zimmerman also commended the work of other Minnesota apple growers, about 30 of which crowded the courtroom.
Before the court adjourned, Zimmerman referred to the case as âÄúa lawyerâÄôs paradise,âÄù saying âÄúthe briefs are the SweeTango of legal briefs. If you are a lawyer, they are like biting into a SweeTango.âÄù