Supreme Court hears Monsanto-vs-Bowman

Published online: Feb 20, 2013
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Indiana farmer Hugh Bowman had his day before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday arguing that Monsanto's patent on seed technology expires after the first generation of seed.

The issue is whether Bowman infringed on Monsanto's patent when he planted unlabeled bin-run soybeans purchased from a grain elevator which turned out to be second generation Roundup Ready beans. He then planted third-generation seed from that crop.

The Los Angeles Times reports the justices seemed to state the need for companies such as Monsanto to generate a financial return from their investment in new products. Chief Justice Roberts asked why a company would spend millions of dollars developing a new seed if a farmer could buy one and then freely reproduce it. Justice Sonia Sotomayor added that a farmer can freely plant the patented seed but not the progeny.

Attorney Mark Walters, representing Bowman, argued that a patent holder "exhausts" his rights after selling the product. Walters said if not, every grain elevator in the country would be in violation of Monsanto's patent because Monsanto's seeds are everywhere. He also contends Bowman's use of seed from the grain elevator would never be a threat to Monsanto's business.

Two lower courts had ruled in favor of Monsanto in the case.

The case is seen as not only important to Monsanto and its patents but important to all patented technologies including stem cells, software and biotechnologies.