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Patent Lawsuit Against Gallo by Vineyard Investigations May Be Nearing End

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Drawing from patent

Drawing from patent 8,528,834

When scientist/vintner and Vineyard Investigations, Inc. (VII) owner Paul Skinner approached E. & J. Gallo in May 2017 about his new inventions for precision viticulture, he had no idea that would open the door to an extensive, five-year lawsuit and federal court trial to defend his patents for a system of automated crop monitoring maintenance included sensors and emitters for individual plants along with an external data an sensor system. VII was formerly named Terra Spase.


Skinner has at least 10 patents to his name. Two of those are at issue in this case:


  • 8,528,834 – (premium) – “Plant growing system using external data and having sensors associated with plants,”  and,
  • 6,947,810 – (Premium) – “System for automated monitoring and maintenance of crops including sensors and emitters associated with plants.”


The trial is in its final stages as the judge decides to accept a “Supplemental Claim Construction Brief (premium)” to respond to a Gallo brief that VII contends contained “new matter and previously undisclosed materials” that VII consider as “evidence and argument that was improperly presented.” The judge has not yet ruled on VII’s request.


Patent lawsuits are far more detailed and complicated than most litigation. A Claim Construction Brief, according to the American Bar Association, “…involves interpreting the meaning of the words of the patent claim….”


As described in VII’s original 45-page complaint (premium) along with many photos and illustrations,  Skinner’s patented invention included a “smart” drip irrigation system controlled by an “advanced system of sensing technology, along with vine growth and disease risk models, to apply water and potentially multiple other chemicals to individual vines when and where they need them…capable of delivering water, fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides to individual or groups of vines depending on detected information about their needs.”


The original complaint states that Skinner’s patented ideas “would improve both yield and quality of grapes and other crops, while also saving water and other costs.”


Gallo’s court filings deny all of VII’s charges.

Complaint Alleges Gallo Misappropriated VII Ideas, Even Published Papers Based On Them (Some With IBM)

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According to VII’s complaint:

“Gallo, in partnership with IBM, built, tested, and benefited from an infringing variable rate irrigation system in one of its vineyards from 2012 through at least 2015.  And Gallo published papers and articles championing the benefits of the system.

“See, e.g., “Variable rate irrigation to manage vineyard variability in California,” available at [Hyperlink added by WII].  Gallo’s system included each of the aspects of Dr. Skinner’s inventions, including emitters, controllers, and sensors for managing variable rate irrigation—as can be seen for example in this photo of the system (left).

While not specifically mentioned in the complaint, a search for “ibm gallo winery” resulted in 374,000 results including links such as : Satellites are helping wine taste better. IBM is not a defendant in this case.

Sample Vineyard Investigations illustrations from their complaint

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