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Supreme Court to Hear Monsanto Seed Patent Case Today

Today, the Supreme Court will hear a patent case that’s been billed as the one to determine who owns the rights to seeds in the ground: the farmer who planted them on his land, or the company that invested resources in designing and selling them.

Bowman v. Monsanto centers on the conflict between 75-year-old Vernon Hugh Bowman, a corn, wheat and soybean farmer from Indiana, and agribusiness giant the Monsanto Company. Monsanto has a patent on its Roundup Ready soybean seeds, designed to be resistant to the company’s weedkiller, Roundup.

Farmers who purchase Monsanto’s seeds must sign an agreement that they will only harvest the resulting crop and not use any of its seeds for replanting. The company has invested heavily in designing its seeds, and planting second-generation Monsanto seeds undermines the company’s business.

Bowman has been a longtime Monsanto customer for his main crops, buying new seed every year. Beginning in 1999, however, he began buying cheaper soybeans from a local grain elevator only to use for planting a second crop of soybeans where he had just harvested his wheat.

That bean mixture was likely to contain some beans with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene, as it is now present in the majority of America’s soybeans.

Monsanto sued Bowman for a legal settlement of nearly $85,000. He was far from the first farmer to find themselves on the receiving end of Monsanto’s patent defense.

According to a joint report from the groups Center for Food Safety and Save Our Seeds, “Monsanto has alleged seed patent infringement in 144 lawsuits against 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in at least 27 U.S. states as of January of 2013.”

But Bowman’s appeal, now, is the first of its kind to make it all the way to the Supreme Court. His lawyers are employing the “patent exhaustion” argument: Once a person purchases a patented good, they are free to do whatever they like with it.

The problem with that argument, Monsanto says, is that most patented goods can’t self-replicate the way a seed does. Industry groups in the biotech and software fields — two sectors whose products are easily replicated — have sided with Monsanto.

On behalf of its Patent Office, the U.S, government has filed a “friend of the court” or amicus curiae brief in support of Monsanto’s position. The government says Monsanto’s patent rights were violated by Bowman and a contrary ruling could have consequences for man-made cell lines, DNA molecules, nanotechnologies and other technologies involving self-replicating features.

© Food Safety News
  • TotalHealth234

    If Monsanto wins this, it will be a very sad day in this country.  They have no business genetically modifying our food in the first place.  God made the seeds the way He did for a reason. 

  • Capsaicin

    REM song “its the end of the world…” comes to mind when Monsanto can engage in what amounts to a seed monopoly.
    Government needs to start limiting the size of corporations by what they produce. Roundup needs to be spun off and separate from monsanto GMO division. And the US needs to end ALL farmer subsidies.

    Why are americans moving into the city and abandoning farming. GIANT corporations that control everything.

    If we run out of food blame the greedy corp’s and complacent gov’t.

    Supreme court will decide in favor of monsanto. They don’t have power anymore. Corporations do.

  • I hope other farmers pay attention to this and do what is right and stop using any GMO product!

    • Beth S

      We’re paying attention, all right@facebook-1303543898:disqus 
       But it’s harder than hell to find seeds to plant that aren’t corrupted by this company’s long arms. I’m so disgusted by it all, I refuse to even mention their name here in my comment. 

  • VTChick

    I am no fan of Monsanto or patented seeds, and I fully supported Mr. Bowman until I read in the Washington Post that he sprayed Roundup on his second planting. If he had simply planted and harvested the soybeans, without taking advantage of the biotechnology built into those soybeans, that would support his intent to buy seeds “the way he used to.” But he wouldn’t have been spraying Roundup on those pre-biotechnology plants. He messed up his own argument.

    • VTChick, this story definitely supports what you’re saying. 

      I think this wasn’t the case to grab onto in order to push back against Monsantos GMO seeds. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/business/justices-signal-a-monsanto-edge-in-patent-case.html?_r=0

      • farmber

        Funny that This was the (very weak) case the Supreme Court chose to hear — and shoot down. They need to reaffirm the hegemony of corporate patents on life forms and this is an easy lift for Monsanto et al.

        It’s been a Done Deal from the git go. And the Bottom line is Might Makes Right. 

  • Thanks to Monsanto and their Franken-seeds, it is getting more and more difficult to buy seed that is not GMO.  Who is protecting the consumers right to natural seed with out genetic tampering that allows the spraying of horrible chemicals more freely?  They have constritcted the market place for buying non GMO seeds, since their Franken-seeds drift and show up everywhere. Who had the patent on non-GMO seeds and fights for them? Saving seeds each year is a normal farming process, going back to the beginning of agriculture, and if we can not use seeds because  they can defend a goverment issued patent, then we are left with a dependency on Monsanto that should be considered both monopolizing and dangerous.  They are controling seed stock that is our future food supply, and they are not taking care of it , they are destroying it. Boo Monsanto. Shame on you for taking a 75 year old farmer/customer of yours to court.  Shows clearly where your corporate values are!

    • JRS_ONE

       You might want to familiarize yourself with the facts. Bowman obtained some seeds with a small fraction of Roundup Ready genes, planted them, then sprayed his entire crop with Roundup, killing everything but the Roundup Ready plants in a deliberate attempt to obtain only RR seeds without paying for them. He’s been planting them and spraying the “horrible chemicals” on them ever since. If he’d planted and harvested the crops in a normal farming process he would not have been sued.

      • Nowhere in the article does it say that he sprayed his second crop of non-Monsanto soybeans with round up or that he intentionally mixed monsanto seed with this second crop. Monsanto is a bully who has been suing farmers for unintentionally having GE plants on their land due to drift from trucks transporting Monsanto seed. In no way should companies be able to patent life in any form. And a farmer has his rights to plant whatever he damn well pleases whether it is monsanto seed or not. And if this farmer wanted to plant his own soy on the back 40 that unknowingly had a few monsanto beans in it then whoop-dee-do. Monsanto needs to be stopped!!!

      •  This response totally ignores that these patented seeds have polluted conventional seed supplies. Farmers have the right to spray their fields, regardless of the type of seed. You are wrong, Monsanto has sued plenty of farmers, who grow crops in a normal farming process. Their seeds spread with the wind. A farmer has no means to distinguish non-patented seeds from patented seeds. It’s pollution.

  • As SCOTUSBlog points out, the issue goes beyond Monsanto and its seeds. I find it unlikely that Monsanto will lose. 

    I think this also demonstrates another danger with GMO crops: it’s getting to the point where it’s becoming impossible to grow crops uncontaminated with GMO biotechnology. 


    • farmber

      It’s called Takeover of the Food System (and Democracy) by Contamination — and thanks to these Patents-on-Life rulings and USDA allowances of GMO alfalfa etc. etc., the Corporate Personhooders are moving full steam ahead…

  • It’s ridiculous of Monsanto to require the farmer NOT use seeds that are produced from the plants he grew.  Why not just right a royalty clause into the contract like musicians and authors do when they produce something that gets replicated.  

  • Seeds and other self replicating “products” also find their OWN way to mix, separate from whatever procedures are in place to stop it. How has this been integrated into the proceedings I wonder?

  • Imagine a software that forces its way onto your computer, and then replicates itself there. Afterward the patent holder sues you for patent infringement. Sounds wrong, yeah? Well this is exactly what Monsanto’s seed does.  How do they protect other plantings from being infected with their genetic modifications? Are those farmers allowed to sue in such a case? Shouldn’t they be required to prevent this crossover, whether in a field or, as in this case, in a silo? I think that unless and until Monsanto can appropriately control any secondary spread of their patented information (within the gene,) then they have no say what anyone does with the result. Let them develop a seed that will produce a plant that is roundup resistant, but whose seed produces plants that aren’t. Their behavior actually smacks of irresponsibility, because its seed “hacks into” where it doesn’t belong, and then they assume this defect can be exploited as a feature.

  • Oginikwe
  • A patent or a pollutant? He has no choice but to buy their seed because their seed has polluted the non-gmo seed supplies. This is a self-replicating monopoly.

  • Gov’t. officials must’ve been worried about losing this case. Former Monsanto Attorney, controversial U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Judge Clarence Thomas, in an unprecedented act of arrogance, refused to ‘recuse’ himself from ruling on this case. In any other court, this would be considered a gross conflict-of-interest. As a former Officer of The Court of The State of Texas, I always ‘recused’ myself in cases which may have been perceived as conflicting with my former affiliations. It’s the ‘right’ thing to do. At the very least, it brings the Court’s decision into question as to whether it was a fair and unbiased decision. What a shame! — Hon. Mary Nash Stoddard, State of Texas 1977-1984

  • Any updates?

  • Mark DeBarbieri

    How ironic; Monsanto’s caffateras and the White House only serve organic foods.