U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously for Monsanto

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U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously for Monsanto

The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of agricultural giant Monsanto yesterday in a patent infringement case surrounding genetically modified soybean seeds.Multi_colored_soybeans

Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman was found to be in violation of Monsanto's patent when he bought seeds for a second planting from a cheaper grain elevator that had likely been mixed up with the company's Roundup Ready product.

For his first planting, Bowman, who had been a Monsanto client for years, had purchased the company's seeds from an affiliated seller.

He found himself in trouble, however, when he planted the grain elevator seeds and, as the court explained, "treated the plants with glyphosate, killing all plants without the Roundup Ready trait; harvested the resulting soybeans that contained that trait; and saved some of these harvested seeds to use in his late-season planting the next season."

Under the licensing agreement with Monsanto, seeds may be used for one crop only and no harvested soybeans may be saved for replanting.

In the ruling written by Justice Elena Kagan, the court held, "Patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission."

The court decision reinforced the company's seed patent claim even when the product is sold through a third party. It also upheld a settlement against the farmer of US$84,456.

In a public statement, Monsanto said the ruling affirmed the purpose of U.S. patent law and provided incentive to inventors.

"The decision also reflects the Court's sensitivity to the importance of patent protection not only for agriculture companies such as Monsanto, but for the basic incentive structure the patent system provides for innovation," the company said.

In his defense, Bowman had argued for patent exhaustion, which gives the purchaser or owner the right to resell an item. The court, however, rejected Bowman's argument, determining the protection does not extend to product copies.

"By planting and harvesting Monsanto’s patented seeds, Bowman made additional copies of Monsanto’s patented invention, and his conduct thus falls outside the protections of patent exhaustion," the court explained in the ruling.

According to the Centre for Food Safety - a supporter of Bowman's case - as of the start of 2013, Monsanto had filed 144 lawsuits against 466 farmers and small business for alleged patent infringement.

Photo: soybeans, Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture



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