Monsanto Soybean Patent Case Appears Stronger in Supreme Court


Monsanto’s patents over genetically modified soybeans appear to be safe as Tuesday’s proceedings saw Monsanto’s counsel leading the argument. The patent was challenged by a farmer from Indiana who had used the soybeans without paying any fee to the company.

The case raised the question whether the patent rights for seeds can replicate can be extended after the first generation. Monsanto’s case was raised by a former U.S. solicitor general, whom the court allowed to debate for a long period, which was an indication of imminent victory.

According to the lawyer, without the power to control reproduction of the patented soybeans, Monsanto wouldn’t have produced and commercialized its creation. Usually, the farmers buying the seeds are required to sign a contract of promise that they wouldn’t save the seeds from the crop. In other terms, it would be required to purchase new seeds every time.

Vernon Hug Bowman, the farmer from Indiana had signed the contract for the main crop. He came to the conclusion that there was a loophole with regard to the second crop. He would purchase from a grain elevator consisting of a mixture of seeds with the hop that a significant percentage would be Roundup Ready resistant.

These types of seeds are usually sold for industrial applications, food processing and animal feed. The farmer planted these seeds and sprayed Roundup. Eventually a significant percentage survived that was used for plantings. According to the farmer, a concept known as patent exhaustion enabled him to use legally purchased products anyway he wanted. However, the lower courts came to the conclusion that the farmer had infringed upon the patent.

The farmer was ordered by a federal judge to pay the patent holder $84,000 and the United States Court of Appeals also upheld the decision. During the hearing in Supreme Court, the farmer’s lawyer a more argumentative reception from most of the justices.  However, the lawyer’s answers couldn’t suffice to satisfy most of the judges. One justice clearly notified the lawyer that his answer was unusually insufficient in such a case.

Even the federal government came to the support of Monsanto claiming that the exhaustion doctrine was restricted to the specific item that was sold. The government’s lawyer said that the doctrine didn’t extend to the creation of a new item. In other terms, the doctrine only allows one to use the article one purchases. It would never allow you to develop another article from the bought item.

On the other hand, Monsanto’s argument was that once a seed was sold and the title passed onto the farmer, while the later assumes all the risks with regard to farming, the company still controls the seed’s ownership and the way it is used.