Monsanto wins patent case against farmer in Supreme Court

8:22 AM, May 13, 2013   |    comments
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Richard Wolf, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court usually isn't friendly toward questionable patents, but it came down overwhelmingly on the side of agribusiness giant Monsanto Monday in a case that's bound to resonate throughout the biotechnology industry.

The court ruled unanimously that an Indiana farmer violated Monsanto's patent on genetically modified soybeans when he culled some from a grain elevator and used them to replant his own crop in future years.

Who it helps: Inventors and entrepreneurs who have patents on products that can be self-replicated, from computer software to cell lines. They will be protected from intellectual property theft even if their challengers go through third parties.

Who it hurts: Consumers paying high prices. The Center for Food Safety released a report in February that showed three corporations control more than half of the global commercial seed market. It found that from 1995-2011, the average cost to plant 1 acre of soybeans rose 325%.

Monsanto's soybeans represent the cream of the crop because they are resistant to the weed killer Roundup. Farmers must pay Monsanto's price to plant the beans themselves.

That's not what Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman did. After one year of going through Monsanto, he bought his second crop from a grain elevator. Then he used his own soybeans that resisted Roundup in future years -- in essence, the court said, making copies of a patented invention.

Two lower federal courts weren't impressed, ruling in favor of Monsanto. And on Monday, the nation's highest court ruled likewise.

Bowman's attorney, Mark Walters, had argued that the Monsanto seeds were acquired innocently enough from the grain elevator, and that Bowman's little operation never would threaten the company's monopoly.

But that argument carried little weight with the justices when the case was argued in February. They noted that Monsanto had spent hundreds of millions of dollars over more than a decade to perfect its soybeans -- something it would not have done if others could so easily replicate them.


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