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Ag technology to go before Supreme Court

Monsanto corp., farmers in fight over patent exhaustion, whether new seeds need to be bought each se

Staff Reporter

Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 01:02


AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, 75, is seen visiting the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. On Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case between Bowman and agribusiness seed-giant Monsanto.

Supreme Court will hear a case regarding the doctrine of patent exhaustion – particularly with self-replicating technologies, today.

Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer accused of purchasing, planting and saving Roundup Ready seeds – seeds resistant to Monsanto Company’s herbicide Roundup – from a grain mill and refused to pay Monsanto’s fees, is challenging the agribusiness giant in a landmark case that could potentially affect more than just the agriculture industry.

Monsanto Company engineered and patented a specific seed and argues that in order to maintain the seed’s integrity the patent should follow the infinite generations of seed that crops grown from the original seed produce, and farmers should have to pay each year in order to use those patented seeds, according to the Supreme Court documents.

Bowman asserts he did nothing wrong by purchasing his variety mix of seeds – containing more than just Monsanto’s patented seeds – from the grain mill since it wasn’t labeled for planting according to the Supreme Court documents.

“They made sure they didn’t sell it as seed. Their ticket said ‘outbound grain’,” Bowman told National Public Radio reporters.

A ruling in favor of Bowman would allow farmers to keep seeds produced from their crops and replant them in subsequent years, lowering the farmer’s overhead costs. Something that SHSU senior and farmer Jarred Stuhrenberg says is impractical.

“As a farmer [I find it] impractical to save, clean and treat seeds for planting next season. Forcing us to buy seed [each year] wouldn’t matter a whole lot because of this,” said Stuhrenberg.

However, Stuhrenberg doesn’t appreciate the control Monsanto is trying to exert either.

“It would be annoying to know that they would have that kind of say in what you did do with the seed you produce.”

In their brief to the Supreme Court however, Monsanto Company claims that a victory for Bowman would “devastate innovation in biotechnology.” Many biotechnology and computer software companies as well as universities invested in that research agree and have filed briefs with the Supreme Court supporting Monsanto.

The United States also agrees. The Solicitor General has been approved to give 10 minutes of testimony Tuesday as to why patents should be held in place beyond the first generation for self-replicating technology – technology that goes beyond seeds and includes DNA used in medical and technological research, live vaccines and even some nanotechnology.

The Supreme Court’s decision on this case has even further reaching implications than agriculture or biotechnology research. In April, the Court is due to hear a similar case regarding the patentability of human genes – a controversial subject for many people.

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