Jump to content

Supreme Court won’t let farmer dodge Monsanto’s seed patents


Recommended Posts

Justices rule 9-0 that Indiana farmer can't rely on a "blame-the-bean defense."


A long-lasting court fight over patented soybeans is over, and agribusiness giant Monsanto has won.

In a decision issued today, the US Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that Monsanto must be allowed to patent its seeds—and it must be able to punish farmers who try to dodge the patents.

Farmers are compelled to sign a patent agreement when they buy Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide-resistant soybeans, promising that they won't use the seeds to produce additional crops. A small-time Indiana farmer, Vernon Bowman, tried to avoid signing that agreement by simply buying a batch of undifferentiated "bin grain" from a grain elevator. Bowman went ahead and sprayed his crops with glyphosate, knowing that because Monsanto's genetically altered seed has become ubiquitous in the food supply, around 90 percent of soybeans would have the Roundup Ready trait that provides resistance to that herbicide.

Bowman also made a second generation of the crop. Monsanto sued, saying that even though the farmer didn't sign a contract, by reproducing its patented seeds he had committed patent infringement. Bowman lost in the lower courts and was ordered by pay $30,000, which has now grown to more than $80,000 with interest. Last year, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case; oral arguments were held in February.

No “blame-the-bean” exception for making new seeds

Users of Roundup Ready soybean seeds can consume their crop or sell it, but the one thing they're not allowed to do is save their harvested soybeans for replanting.

Bowman bought Roundup Ready each year for his first crop and observed that restriction. But for his riskier second crop, he bought "commodity" soybeans that were intended for consumption, not planting. Still, he found that most of the soybeans had the Roundup Ready resistance trait because Monsanto's product is everywhere. Bowman ultimately planted eight crops in this manner.

Monsanto sued and Bowman fought back. Monsanto's patent rights should be governed by "patent exhaustion," argued Bowman. Once they sell their seed one time, their rights end. The agriculture company was asking for an exception to the exhaustion doctrine according to the farmer.

The Supreme Court didn't see it that way.

"t is really Bowman who is asking for an exception to the well-settled rule that exhaustion does not extend to the right to make new copies of the patented item," wrote Justice Elena Kagan for a unanimous court. "If Bowman was granted that exception, patents on seeds would retain little value."

Not many farmers are engaging in the practice that Bowman is. In fact, a major seed distributor filed an amicus with the court noting that Bowman's purchase of "bin grain" for planting was not at all the norm. Bowman himself couldn't identify another farmer doing it. So today's ruling, which was not unexpected based on the tone of the oral arguments, essentially upholds the status quo.

However, it is noteworthy and a bit worrisome that the court upheld a finding that Bowman was "copying" the soybeans by simply planting seeds and applying herbicide. In the court's view, that counts as "making" a new item—a patented item in this case—and so it is barred by the patent laws. Bowman argued that seeds are special because they naturally self-replicate. "t was that planted soybean, not Bowman" that made the "copies" of Monsanto's invention, Bowman's lawyers argued.

But the justices didn't accept this line of thinking, which they called a "blame-the-bean defense."

Today's decision specifically avoids determining how patents might affect other self-replicating technologies that come up in the future. "In another case, the article's self-replication might occur outside the purchaser's control," notes Kagan.

Source: Ars Technica

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 3
  • Views 1.1k
  • Created
  • Last Reply

I can just see it now: in the future all seeds will be patented and ordinary folk won't be able to plant anything without violating one patent or the other and without licensing. Seeds, genes, what next? Patenting is getting way out of control.

Is it just me or does this give corporations too much power over food supply?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It gives them way too much control. Monsanto is a beast that is out of control, not just here in the U.S. but all across the globe.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

take notice... we are witnessing the start of XXI century downfall of copy restrictions. it will be a tough fight and many will fall, because they rather have us die than reproduce one of their patents. thus is the nature of thine enemy... get your popcorn ready.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...