Thursday, February 21, 2013

Supreme Court Seems on Monsanto's Side Over Seed Patent - February 21st, 2013

WASHINGTON — Monsanto's patent for genetically modified soybeans appears safe in the Supreme Court's hands. And that's good news for innovations in biotechnology, computer software and other self-replicating products.

The biggest mystery arising from the justices' 70-minute consideration Tuesday of an Indiana farmer's challenge to Monsanto, in fact, was why they had agreed to hear the case at all, since two lower courts already had ruled for Monsanto.

In a classic case of David vs. Goliath, 75-year-old Vernon Hugh Bowman is challenging the agribusiness giant's patent on soybeans that are resistant to the weed killer Roundup. He bought his first batch of "Roundup Ready" seeds from Monsanto but then bought a cheaper mixture from a grain elevator that included some Monsanto seeds.

It's the third generation of seeds that's at issue in the case, because Bowman then began replanting his own herbicide-resistant seeds — and that violated Monsanto's patent, the company claims.

From Tuesday's oral arguments, it didn't seem Bowman had a vote in the room. "You cannot make copies of a patented invention," said Justice Stephen Breyer.

It's for that reason Monsanto has required farmers using its seeds to sign an agreement promising not to save and replant harvested seeds. But even if there was no license, the justices seemed to doubt Bowman's right to create new generations of identical seed under patent law.

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