The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman infringed Monsanto’s patent for genetically modified soybeans when he bought some of those seeds from a local grain elevator and used them for a second, late-season crop.
In a lawsuit, Monsanto argued that Bowman, a man in his 70s who has farmed the same land for most of the past four decades, violated the contract he signed when he initially bought the seeds in the spring. The contract stated that none of the harvest from the first batch of seeds, known as Roundup Ready because they are resistant to the weed-killing chemical of the same name, could be saved for replanting.
Such “junk seeds” were cheaper than Monsanto’s product. The company won a settlement of more than $84,000 from Bowman.
Bowman’s main argument was that Monsanto’s patent on the seeds was exhausted. Justice Elena Kagan disagreed, saying that the company would go out of business if it allowed farmers like Bowman to replant seeds after one season’s use:
“In the case at hand, Bowman planted Monsanto’s patented soybeans solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article. Patent exhaustion provides no haven for that conduct. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.”
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
The decision will be seen as a big defeat for those who had looked to Bowman’s case to challenge the growing power over modern farming that is wielded by giant agricultural and biotech firms. By the start of this year, Monsanto had filed 144 lawsuits against 466 farmers and small farm businesses alleging patent infringement, according to a report from the Centre for Food Safety which has championed Bowman’s case.
The report noted that three big companies now control more than half of the global seed market – a position that has sent prices soaring. The report said the average cost of planting an acre of soybeans had risen 325% between 1995 and 2011.
Humphrey King (CC BY-SA 2.0)