In 1997, Johns Hopkins University published new information found in their study on broccoli sprouts. Broccoli sprouts, it turned out, had 20 to 50 times more antioxidants than adult broccoli. That meant you would have to eat 1 to 3 pounds of broccoli to get the same amount of antioxidants as 1 ounce of broccoli sprouts!
This was great news in the world of healthy eating. Broccoli seed overnight became very difficult, if not impossible, to come by. What surprised everyone more than the investigation itself was what followed shortly after. Before long, it became known throughout the sprouting and health food world that the doctors who had conducted the research had formed a corporation by the name of “Brassica Protection Products” and had patented the broccoli sprouting process. With this patent in force, the sale of all seeds intended for the germination and production of all broccoli sprouts had to be authorized by Brassica Protection Products.
So BPP began suing those who refused to comply with the patent, and many sprout growers stopped growing broccoli sprouts for fear of litigation. This also sparked resentment among sprouts. Those who complied with the patent and bought a license felt a bit angry with those who didn’t and felt they should be forced to do so. Those who had not given in to pressure to comply with the patent felt that the licensees had been sold.
BPP sued five sprout growers and one seed supplier in 2000 and ended up partnering with Green Giant Fresh Inc., which made them big money and made it difficult for anyone to win against them.
Since patents are presumed valid in a court of law, they can only be overcome by convincing evidence. In order for the sprout companies to receive summary judgment, they would have to provide evidence that was irrefutable. The court would need to rule in favor of BPP if there were any questions of fact in the producer’s case.
In the end, sprout growers won the case, which was not contested by BPP. The judge essentially ruled that it was ridiculous to try to patent a process that has been occurring naturally for years.
Naturally, this was a relief to sprout growers across the country and perhaps also to some housewives who might start growing their broccoli sprouts again in the kitchen instead of in the basement.