The Cosmic Crisp apple has been released after 20 years of development, research, planting and harvesting. The combination of Enterprise and Honeycrisp apples is now being touted as an instant success with consumers. For stakeholders, the next task is to expand the brand with other secondary products while also protecting the royalties owed to Washington State University (WSU). Questions also remain as to whether growing exclusivity will be maintained a decade from now.
“People are waiting outside the (grocery store) doors to buy the apple,” Property Variety Management (PVM) President Lynnell Brandt told attendees at the Washington Tree Fruit Association’s 115th annual meeting in Wenatchee.
“(It was) an amazing situation,” Brandt said. “A star was born.”
PVM is a global intellectual property (IP) service provider managing the release of the Cosmic Crisp. To track IP use and licenses along with tree plantings, the company uses a specialist database called Idyia.
The importance of IP protection is reflected in the $7 million in tree and production royalties already generated – $1 for every tree. In 2017, 630,000 trees were planted. That figure jumped to six million in 2018. This year, an estimated four million trees were planted. WSU receives 65 percent of the royalties, while the nurseries get 35 percent. WSU has invested half its royalties directly back into its apple breeding program.
“This program is dependent on the brand more than anything else,” Brandt said. “The brand is ultra-important to the success of this program, and we must all continually pay attention to it.”
Along with the apple itself, consumers will also be able to purchase it in a variety of forms, including apple juice, refrigerated cider and apple pie.
“We’re hoping to find better returns for our growers, all the way from fresh through the secondary markets,” said PVM Director of Marketing and Operations Kathryn Grandy.
The emphasis on brand protection perhaps explains the enormous investment WSU has already made in legal fees; in 2018, the university spent $600,000 on outside counsel alone. That amount increased to $900,000 this year.
“This is to protect the variety both from an industry perspective and from a university perspective,” WSU Business Development Specialist Albert Tsui said. “Usually when you have something big, we hope there are no lawsuits involved, but as they get more popular and more desirable you need to defend your turf. We take this particular investment from the stakeholders, industry and the university very seriously.”
Currently, Washington growers have 10-year exclusivity to grow the Cosmic Crisp. Tsui added that enforcement of such will be critical to reassure licensed growers who pay royalties “that we are going after infringers. If we do find illegally propagated trees, we will ask the trees be destroyed. That is something that is non-negotiable. Part of what we are trying to do (is) let all the folks know how to play by the rules.
“At this point it’s something that we hear, we’re listening and taking that under consideration,” he said, adding it may depend on the market conditions in 2027.