An Indiana farmer lost his court battle against Monsanto when the Supreme Court ruled in the company’s favor on Monday. The court ruled unanimously that farmers cannot use Monsanto’s patented genetically altered soybeans to create new seeds unless they pay the company a fee.
But despite the ruling against the Indiana farmer, Justice Elena Kagan, writing on behalf of the court, added that the decision was narrow. She explained:
“Our holding today is limited — addressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicating product… in another case, the article’s self-replication might occur outside the purchaser’s control.”
Farmers who purchase Monsanto’s patented seeds are required to sign a contract that promises they won’t save seeds from the crop they get. That means they have to purchase new seeds every year. The seeds are valuable to the company, as well as farmers, because they are resistant to Roundup, an herbicide also produced by Monsanto.
The Indiana farmer who lost his battle with Monsanto purchased soybean seeds from the agriculture giant. However, he decided to look for something less expensive for a more risky, late-season soybean planting. Therefore, the farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, purchased seeds from a grain elevator that typically sells the soybeans for feed, milling, and other uses.
He reasoned that the majority of the soybeans would also be resistant to weed killers, since they came from herbicide-resistant seeds as well. And he was right. He used the second generation soybeans for eight years. But Monsanto sued him in 2007 and won an $84,456 judgement in the case.
Bowman maintained he shouldn’t be liable, partially because soybeans sprout naturally when they are planted. He also maintained that a doctrine called patent exhaustion allowed him to do what he wanted with products he purchased legally. But the Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Kagan explained the doctrine doesn’t apply to how Bowman used the seeds.
How do you feel about the Supreme Court’s ruling in the battle between an Indiana farmer and Monsanto?
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