The Supreme Court ruled against an Indiana farmer who sought to cut the planting cost of his soybean crop by relying on subsequent generations of a patented Monsanto herbicide-resistant seed.
Farmers cannot by-pass the patent protection provided for genetically-altered seeds by producing a new generation of seeds with the same traits, the US Supreme Court ruled Monday.
In a unanimous decision, the high court sided with Monsanto Co. in a dispute with an Indiana farmer who sought to cut the planting cost of his soybean crop by relying on subsequent generations of Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready soybean seed.
The company developed a genetically-altered strain of seed that is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. Monsanto sells the new seed under a licensing agreement with farmers that permits its use to grow one crop for sale or consumption.
The company explicitly bars farmers from using the resulting crop to seed future cultivation. The 20-year patent is designed to ensure that Monsanto reaps the rewards of its invention and innovation, and to provide an incentive for more innovation.
The farmer, Vernon Bowman, complied with the company’s licensing terms when planting and harvesting his first crop of the season. But rather than pay the higher price for Monsanto’s seed, Mr. Bowman purchased soybeans from a grain elevator and used them to seed his second crop of the season.
He assumed that most of the newly-purchased soybeans carried the genetic alteration that would render them resistant to the herbicide. After planting the seeds and applying the herbicide, the non-resistant plants died off, but most of the crop survived.
The farmer used this cost-saving technique for eight seasons – until Monsanto found out. The company sued for patent infringement.