WASHINGTON, May 13, 2013 – The Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously today that Monsanto has the right to enforce its patent on Roundup Ready soybeans by prohibiting farmers from planting “second generation” seeds without compensation.
In a widely anticipated opinion, Justice Elena Kagan rejected the contention by Indiana grower Vernon Hugh Bowman that the company’s patent was exhausted after the first planting of the crop. Justices had signaled their skepticism about his defense during oral arguments Feb. 19.
“Bowman purchased Roundup Ready soybean seed for his first crop of each growing season from a company associated with Monsanto and followed the terms of the licensing agreement,” Kagan wrote. “But to reduce costs for his riskier late-season planting, Bowman purchased soybeans intended for consumption from a grain elevator . . . and saved some of these harvested seeds to use in his late-season planting the next season.” Monsanto, learning of the practice, sued for patent infringement. Lower courts rejected Bowman’s defense, siding with Monsanto.
“Patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission,” the court held. The doctrine does not restrict a patent holder’s ability to prevent a buyer from making new copies of the patented item, it said.
“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. Were this otherwise, Monsanto’s patent would provide scant benefit. After Monsanto sold its first seed, other seed companies could produce the patented seed to compete with Monsanto, and farmers would need to buy seed only once.” Kagan reasoned that, if Bowman were granted an exception, “patents on seeds would retain little value.”
The American Soybean Association applauded the decision. “The court’s 9-0 ruling expresses support for the protection of intellectual property,” said ASA President Danny Murphy of Canton, Miss. “Without the protection of intellectual property that the court reaffirmed today, the companies on whom my fellow soybean farmers and I rely would have no real incentive to make the investments necessary to develop new soybean varieties that yield more, resist disease, weeds, and pests, are drought tolerant, or have improved nutritional profiles,” he said.
“Intellectual property protection sparked a sea change in investments by public and private seed breeders into improved seeds for soybeans and other crops,” he concluded. The [decision] recognized that if you take away the incentive for those entities to strive for a better seed, they won’t make those investments and farmers eventually won’t have the benefits of improved seeds.”
For more news, visit www.agri-pulse.com.