Supreme Court sides with Monsanto, backs patents on ‘self-replicating technology’
By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
The Supreme Court unanimously backed patents on “self-replicating technology” like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans on Monday and along with it, backed the controversial licensing agreement preventing farmers from using seeds more than once.
This case, Bowman v. Monsanto Co. et al., specifically concerned Monsanto’s patented genetically modified soybeans but it very well might be extended to similar products like Monsanto’s popular Roundup Ready corn.
Yet when writing for the court, Justice Elena Kagan made it clear that it does not address every self-replicating product.
“Our holding today is limited — addressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicating product,” Kagan wrote.
“We recognize that such inventions are becoming ever more prevalent, complex, and diverse,” Kagan continued. “In another case, the article’s self-replication might occur outside the purchaser’s control. Or it might be a necessary but incidental step in using the item for another purpose.”
The Court ruled against 74-year-old Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman who signed contracts pledging to not save seeds from his crops, guaranteeing that he has to buy new seeds every year.
According to The New York Times, Bowman “bought seeds from a grain elevator filled with a mix of seeds in the reasonable hope that many of them contained Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready gene.”
While those seeds are usually sold for animal feed, industrial uses or food processing, Bowman planted them and sprayed the crops with Roundup.
When certain plaints survived, Bowman would save the seeds for further plantings, cutting into Monsanto’s profits.
Initially, a federal judge ordered Bowman to pay Monsanto over $84,000 for his violation and he fought it all the way to the Supreme Court.
While Bowman claimed that a concept called patent exhaustion allowed him to use the products as he pleased since he obtained them legally, Kagan said it didn’t apply to the way he used Monsanto’s seeds.
“Under the patent exhaustion doctrine, Bowman could resell the patented soybeans he purchased from the grain elevator; so too he could consume the beans himself or feed them to his animals,” Kagan wrote for the Court.
“But the exhaustion doctrine does not enable Bowman to make additional patented soybeans without Monsanto’s permission, and that is precisely what Bowman did.” Kagan wrote.
“If simple copying were a protected use, a patent would plummet in value after the first sale of the first item containing the invention,” Kagan wrote. “The undiluted patent monopoly, it might be said, would extend not for 20 years as the Patent Act promises, but for only one transaction. And that would result in less incentive for innovation than Congress wanted.”
When the Obama administration – which has a tight relationship with Monsanto – wrote an amicus brief, the administration said that the Court shouldn’t worry about the fact that this decision could have troubling implications for traditional farming techniques.
Usually, farmers freely use parts of a previous harvest to produce the next but the Obama administration said that Congress is “better equipped than this court” to consider such issues.
The Court unequivocally sided with Monsanto in the case, protecting their business model from what the corporation claimed would mean its very doom.
“Without reasonable license restrictions prohibiting the replanting of second- and later-generation soybeans, Monsanto’s ability to protect its patented technology would effectively be lost as soon as the first generation of the product was introduced into the market,” Monsanto wrote in a filing.
“Practically, this issue affects every farmer in the country and the method of planting that farmers such as Mr. Bowman have used for generations,” Bowman’s attorneys said.
“Regardless of how unnatural the conditions may seem, the licensing agreement with farmers also forbids the seeds to be resold for commercial planting, and they cannot be used for research, crop breeding or seed production,” David Kravets wrote for Threat Level.
“Welcome to farming in the age of patented, genetically modified organisms,” he added.
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