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No merit in Pioneer v. Pioneer suit: Richardson

The company formerly known as Pioneer Grain says it won’t stop selling seed to Prairie farmers under the Pioneer name without a fight.

Richardson Pioneer, the recently-renamed grain handling wing of Winnipeg agribusiness firm Richardson International, said in a release late Wednesday that a lawsuit filed against it by Pioneer Hi-Bred, an international seed breeding and marketing firm, over the use of the “Pioneer” trademark is “without merit.”

Pioneer Hi-Bred, the seed wing of chemical company DuPont, said Wednesday it has filed suits in Winnipeg and Toronto, citing what it called a “long-standing legal agreement” between the two completely unrelated Pioneer companies.

According to Pioneer Hi-Bred president Ian Grant, the legal agreement over trademark rights makes it “the only company that has the right to use the Pioneer brand name as it relates to the marketing and sale of seed in Canada.”

The general counsel and vice-president for corporate affairs for Richardson International, now the second-largest grain company in Canada, disagrees and says the allegations will be “vigorously” defended.

“The fact of the matter is that we have been using the ‘Pioneer’ trademark to sell seed for nearly a century and well before Pioneer Hi-Bred’s arrival in Canada,” Jean-Marc Ruest said in Richardson’s release late Wednesday.

“Pioneer Hi-Bred’s actions are disappointing,” Ruest said. “They appear to be high-handed and a poorly-conceived attempt to intimidate us, hoping that we will abandon a trade name that has been proudly used by the Richardson family for several generations.”

In an interview Thursday, Ruest said that the Richardson family, which has operated in the grain business under the Pioneer Grain name since 1913, had some concerns when Pioneer Hi-Bred began operating under that name in Canada, but felt that its own brand was sufficiently well-known among Prairie farmers.

Since 1970

Pioneer Hi-Bred’s roots date back to the Hi-Bred Corn Co., founded in 1926 in the U.S. by Henry A. Wallace to develop and market hybrid seed corn, according to the company’s website. The Iowa-based firm expanded its operations into Canada in 1946 and adopted the name “Pioneer Hi-Bred International” in 1970. It then became part of DuPont in a 1999 merger.

Neither Ruest nor Pioneer Hi-Bred spokesperson Rachel Faust would comment on the specifics of their legal trademark agreements. Nor would Faust comment on the specific concerns that led to this lawsuit, other than to say Wednesday that “clearly we don’t feel the terms of the agreement are being met.”

Richardson must now file a statement of defense in Pioneer Hi-Bred’s suit, and plans to do so within the next few weeks, Ruest said.

This specific trademark issue has nothing to do with the privately-held company’s rebranding of Pioneer Grain as Richardson Pioneer, Ruest said. The rebranding project, which was launched early this month, had been in the works for a substantial period of time, he added. Other Richardson operations such as Canbra Foods are also now rebranded with the Richardson name.

Ruest said the new Richardson Pioneer logo will turn up on driveway signage, letterhead and business cards but is not expected to turn up on the sides of Pioneer’s elevators across the Prairies. Nor will the rebranding change those elevators’ traditional orange and yellow colour scheme, he said.

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