Monsanto Heads To Supreme Court In Seed Patent Dispute

Monsanto is heading to the Supreme Court in a seed patent dispute with a 75-year-old Indiana farmer.

The patent battle has the potential to affect the biotechnology industry, as well as the future of food production.

The dispute began when Vernon Bowman, a soybean farmer, purchased and planted a mix of unmarked grain normally used for animal feed, reports Reuters.

The plants that grew from the mix ended up containing Roundup Ready, an herbicide-resistant genetic trait Monsanto guards with patents.

The biotech giant accused the Indiana farmer of infringing on its patents because the plants he grew contained the company’s genetics. But Bowman argued that he used second-generation grain, instead of the original seeds that Monsanto’s patents cover.

The Supreme Court will rule on whether Monsanto’s patents cover second generation seeds and on, or if they end after the first generation. The biotech industry is concerned over the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case.

The New York Times notes that Monsanto has claimed in its brief that a ruling in the Indiana farmer’s favor would let farmers save seeds from one year’s crops to plant the next year, getting rid of patent protection.

The company adds that the ruling would “devastate innovation in biotechnology. Monsanto continued:

“Investors are unlikely to make such investments if they cannot prevent purchasers of living organisms containing their invention from using them to produce unlimited copies.”

Several companies and organizations have filed briefs in support of Monsanto. The organizations include universities, makers of lab instruments, and the American Soybean Association.

Critics of biotechnology believe that a victory for the Indiana farmer would serve to reduce Monsanto’s stranglehold on farmers. The company, along with other big biotech companies, have helped raise seed prices and have caused a lack of high-yielding varieties of seeds that aren’t genetically engineered.

Farmers who plant seeds carrying Monsanto’s technology are required to sign an agreement not to save the seeds, meaning they have to buy new seeds each year. Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, states that patents have “given seed companies enormous power, and it’s come at the detriment of farmers.”

Do you think Monsanto should win the seed patent battle heading to the Supreme Court, or should the court rule in favor of the Indiana farmer?

[Image by Luther Blissett (Flickr: DSC07535) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]