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Case Study: Ownership of Genetically Modified Crops

Napa Biotech, an agribusiness specializing in the production of genetically modified grapes, sells seeds for red grapevines to wineries throughout the Napa Valley. The red grapes produced by Napa Biotech grow very successfully in the Napa Valley and are thriving despite more extreme temperatures resulting from global climate change. The climate is so vital to a successful harvest that wineries purchase these genetically modified seeds to ensure against an unpredictable future. When a contract is signed between a winery and Napa Biotech, the winery agrees to purchase seeds every year and not replant any of the seeds the following year.

After three years of doing business with Napa Biotech, a winery in Napa called Gianna Vintners decides to end their contract and stop receiving seeds from the company. Over the past five years, Gianna Vintners’ business has increased and the winery is willing to risk crop failure with non-GM (traditional) grapes.

Later that year, Napa Biotech sues Gianna Vintners for breach of contract. The biotech claims that the winery is illegally using their GM seeds after the contract ended. Attorneys for Napa Biotech present evidence of some new GM grapevines growing in the fields of Gianna Vintners. The winery claims they did not actively use the genetically modified seeds, and the few new GM grapevines must have been a result of natural processes, like grapes from last year falling to the ground and sprouting. Napa Biotech argues that the seeds belong to Napa Biotech, and that because the seeds had not been properly licensed, a portion of the vineyard’s profits should now belong to Napa Biotech. Gianna Vintners counters that they do not have the technology to determine which plants in their field are GM, and it is unreasonable to expect them to take extreme measures to ensure that a few GM plants don’t grow on their own. Still, the contract signed by Gianna Vintners is very specific about the reuse of Napa Biotech seeds.

If you were Jim, would you have hired Candidate #2 also?

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