Monsanto Triumphs in Soybean Patent Case before Supreme Court

Josh Long, Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider

May 13, 2013

2 Min Read
Monsanto Triumphs in Soybean Patent Case before Supreme Court

WASHINGTONThe U.S. Supreme Court on Monday affirmed an $84,456 judgment against an Indiana soybean farmer, marking a victory for Monsanto Company and other owners of intellectual property that is capable of self-replication.

Growers who purchase Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds agree to plant them in only one season because a genetically-engineered trait that is resistant to weed killers is passed on to future generations.

Vernon Hugh Bowman honored the terms of a special licensing agreement, planting Roundup Ready seeds each year for the first crop of the season, then selling the crop to a grain elevator.

But the farmer also purchased from a grain elevator commodity seeds that happened to contain Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology. Bowman not only planted them in his fields, he saved the seeds to use the following year, and he continued to do so for years.

The court rejected the farmer's central argumentthat Monsanto's patent rights had been "exhausted" following an authorized sale of its seeds from local farmers to the grain elevator and that the biotechnology giant had no right to control his use of the soybeans.

In a unanimous decision, Justice Elena Kagan said Bowman could do many things with the seeds he purchased from the grain elevator, just not use them to plant more soybeans since he was reproducing "Monsanto's patented invention".

Otherwise, the court observed, Monsanto would receive little benefit because farmers would only need to purchase one seed, then produce later generations of the seeds whose patented trait is passed on to future generations.

"Monsanto still held its patent, but received no gain from Bowman's annual production and sale of Roundup Ready soybeans," Kagan wrote. "The exhaustion doctrine is limited to the 'particular item' sold to avoid just such a mismatch between invention and reward."

Kagan cautioned that the court's holding was "limitedaddressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicated product."

The ruling was not much of a surprise. During oral arguments earlier this year, the Supreme Court justices hammered Bowman's lawyer with questions , expressing skepticism that the farmer had the right to plant the Roundup Ready seeds without Monsanto's authorization.

"Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want"? John Roberts, the chief justice, asked at the time.


About the Author(s)

Josh Long

Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider, Informa Markets Health and Nutrition

Josh Long directs the online news, feature and op-ed coverage at Natural Products Insider, which targets the health and wellness industry. He has been reporting on developments in the dietary supplement industry for over a decade, with a focus on regulatory issues, including at the Food and Drug Administration.

He has moderated and/or presented at industry trade shows, including SupplySide East, SupplySide West, Natural Products Expo West, NBJ Summit and the annual Dietary Supplement Regulatory Summit.

Connect with Josh on LinkedIn and ping him with story ideas at [email protected]

Education and previous experience

Josh majored in journalism and graduated from Arizona State University the same year "Jake the Snake" Plummer led the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law, was admitted in 2008 to practice law in the state of Colorado and spent a year clerking for a state district court judge.

Over more than a quarter century, he’s written on various topics for newspapers and business-to-business publications – from the Yavapai in Arizona and a controversial plan for a nuclear-waste incinerator in Idaho to nuanced issues, including FDA enforcement of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

Since the late 1990s, his articles have been published in a variety of media, including but not limited to, the Cape Cod Times (in Massachusetts), Sedona Red Rock News (in Arizona), Denver Post (in Colorado), Casper Star-Tribune (in Wyoming), now-defunct Jackson Hole Guide (in Wyoming), Colorado Lawyer (published by the Colorado Bar Association) and Nutrition Business Journal.

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