Holes found in the ‘absorbing’ ‘David versus Goliath’ case on transporting roses

DEN HAAG, Netherlands: Patent holder Floration Europe from Bovenkarspel has drawn the short straw in summary proceedings against Royal FloraHolland. The District Court of The Hague ruled against Floration (Tuesday 13 April) and ordered RFH to pay the legal/administrative costs of more than €40,000.

According to the judge’s preliminary ruling, RFH is not infringing the patent on the transporting method of roses and chrysanthemums in sea containers from Africa.

Floration owns a patent on an ethylene-regulating package that enables the flowers to survive the six-week sea journey. For this purpose, they use packaging with ethylene permeable holes and the addition of an absorbing agent. The judge writes in the judgment that Floration interprets the term ethylene-regulating too broadly. Holes in the packaging that allow ethylene to pass through are insufficient to fall under the protection of the patent.

A packaging that allows ethylene to pass through is not sufficient to keep flowers in good condition; it requires additional measures for this purpose. Since RFH’s packaging does not have any any other specific ethylene-regulating measures, it does not infringe Floration’s patent, according to the judgement. RFH emphasised during summary proceedings six weeks ago that the transport of flowers by sea container is still in the experimental phase. Last summer, many flowers had to be thrown away. In one container, 15 per cent arrived discoloured. In three other containers, 11 per cent were mouldy or dried out.

During the summary proceedings, RFH denied any infringement of the patent. According to RFH lawyer Peter Duijsens, boxes with holes have been used to transport roses for forty years. It is also obvious that roses should no longer be transported in water. “Nobody wets roses before transporting them. That is just obvious”. RFH says it spoke to Susanna Blanche Jones of Floration years ago but saw her concept as ‘a complete failure’.  Since then, Floration has allegedly not improved on her concept.

Jones, who is American by origin, says she has been active in container transport of flowers since 2002.  According to her, Floration is unique in finding the right balance between dehydration and mould (botrytis) on the roses during container transport.  She does want to see money in return. “I have invested an enormous amount of money and time in this project,” Jones said, during the summary proceedings. “I want to give access to the patent, but not for free. I will sell it for the right price.”

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