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US agriculture wary as Monsanto heads to Supreme Court

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"I think the case has enormous implications," said Dermot Hayes, an Iowa State University agribusiness and economics professor who believes Monsanto should prevail. "If Monsanto were to lose, many companies would have a reduced incentive for research in an area where we really need it right now. The world needs more food."

The court battle has ballooned into a show-down that merges contentious matters of patent law with an ongoing national debate about the merits and pitfalls of genetically altered crops and efforts to increase food production.

More than 50 organizations - from environmental groups to intellectual property experts - as well as the U.S. government have filed legal briefs hoping to sway the high court.

Companies developing patented cell lines and tools of molecular biotechnology could lose their ability to capture the ongoing value of these technologies if the Supreme Court sides with Bowman, said Hans Sauer, deputy general counsel for the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

The case also is important to regenerative medicine that relies on stem cell technologies. A stem cell by definition is a cell that can self-replicate, thus the case may answer the question of whether a patentee can control progeny of a patented stem cell, according to Antoinette Konski, a partner with Foley & Lardner's intellectual property practice group.

Monsanto, a $13 billion behemoth in agricultural seed and chemical sales, also sees the case as much bigger than itself.

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