Monsanto Wins Case Of Seed Patents; Planting Your Own Legally Purchased & Grown Seeds Can Be Infringing
by Mike Masnick, Tech Dirt
Mon, May 13th 2013 12:49pm
(T)he key things here. Bowman did not break any license agreement over seeds that he bought. He also legally purchased other seeds that had been legally provided to grain elevators to be sold. All he did was plant those legally purchased seeds, for which he was not violating any license agreement, and then harvest and replant the seeds that came from them. And this, apparently, is illegal under our patent system.
Given the fire power that came out in support of Monsanto — including the federal government — it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the Supreme Court just gave a complete and total victory to Monsanto. The key issue was whether or not this was a case of “patent exhaustion.” There was a key case a few years ago that mostly said that once a patent holder sells a product, the patent is “exhausted” so that the patent holder can’t demand licensing fees up and down the supply chain. However, they distinguish this case by saying that this is different because it’s a “copy” of the legally purchased seed. I could see how that would make sense if we were talking about someone building a copy of a machine in a garage or something, but this is a seed. Copying itself is what seeds do. That’s kind of their entire purpose.
Yet, throughout the decision, the court (with a decision written by Justice Kagan) acts as if Bowman just built a replica. But that ignores the fact that this is nature we’re talking about seeds that replicate themselves naturally, because that’s what seeds do. The court has no problem with this, but it seems somewhat ridiculous that someone can legally buy something, have it do what it naturally does (and has done for nearly all of history) and then be told that violates a patent. When addressing Bowman’s point concerning the fact that seeds by nature, replicate themselves, they basically brush that aside by noting that Bowman then harvested them. As if he’s supposed to ignore what’s happening?
Another thing to note is that the bio-engineering in question is the so-called “Roundup Ready” gene that renders plants immune to one of Monsanto’s main products, the herbicide “Roundup”. You can decide for yourself how much you like poison saturated produce.