GENEWATCH
 
TOPIC UPDATE: GENE PATENTS
By CRG Staff
 

Monsanto Takes a Farmer to Supreme Court

Bowman v. Monsanto
, in which the largest agribusiness company in the world is seeking damages from Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman for violating the corporation's patent on genetically modified Roundup Ready seeds, is not going well for Bowman.

Farmers who buy Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign a contract which forbids them from saving seeds from that crop and replanting them the following year (instead of having to go back to Monsanto for their seeds each year).

Vernon Bowman had legally purchased Roundup Ready seeds for several years before he hatched a plan to circumvent both having to buy the herbicide-resistant seeds from Monsanto each year, and having to sign the contract forbidding him from replanting those seeds. He bought soybeans from a local grain silo, knowing that it would include a mix of Roundup Ready and non-Roundup Ready soybeans - and that, although it was meant for livestock feed, many of the beans would still be viable as seed. Bowman planted the soybeans and sprayed the field with Roundup; the plants that survived were the Roundup Ready ones, and he saved and replanted those seeds for several years.

But in 2007, Monsanto found out and sued Bowman for patent infringement. The Indiana Federal Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit both ruled that Bowman owes Monsanto over $84,000. Now the case has reached the Supreme Court, but after the Court heard arguments from both sides (but especially from Monsanto's lawyer, who had significantly more uninterrupted speaking time), the verdict doesn't look likely to change.

Bowman's lawyer, Mark Walters, challenged not just Monsanto's case against Bowman but the patents themselves. The Supreme Court - even the more liberal justices, such as Justice Sonia Sotamayor - did not appear convinced.

"He can plant and harvest and eat or sell," Justice Antonin Scalia said, echoing the sentiments of Chief Justice John Roberts. "He just can't plant, harvest, and then replant."

"We disagree that the activity of basic farming could be considered making the invention," Walter responded.

The Court is expected to hand down its ruling by June.

 
 
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Created in 1999 by the Council for Responsible Genetics, the Safe Seed Pledge helps to connect non-GM seed sellers,distributors and traders to the growing market of concerned gardeners and agricultural consumers. The Pledge allows businesses and individuals to declare that they "do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds," thus assuring consumers of their commitment.
 
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The Council for Responsible Genetics’ Genetic Privacy Manual: Understanding the Threats- Understanding Your Rights will be a comprehensive, electronic source of information for the consumer on these issues.
 
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