(Posted Mon. May 13th, 2013)
May 13: The National Corn Growers Association expressed support today for the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Bowman v. Monsanto. The court ruled unanimously that Bowman, an Indiana farmer, violated Monsanto's patent on genetically modified soybeans when he purchased some from a grain elevator and used them to replant his own crop in future years. In doing so, the court reaffirmed the importance of maintain the integrity of intellectual property laws as they pertain to agricultural biotechnology.
“In their ruling today, the court upheld the American values that underpin our economic system and help maintain our national spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said NCGA Chair Garry Niemeyer, a farmer from Illinois. “It is essential to future research that companies are able to profit from their innovations already on the market and under patent protection. In upholding the integrity of this right, the court shows that the American dream of achieving success through hard work and ingenuity is still alive.”
The plaintiff, Bowman, used Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds from 1999 to 2007, buying them from a Monsanto-authorized dealer. In so doing, Monsanto successfully argued that the farmer agreed to a license agreement that says a customer may plant the original seeds but cannot plant or sell their progeny. The agreement does allow farmers to sell the second-generation seeds to grain elevators, where they are typically used for animal feed.
To save money during his riskier second planting of the season, Bowman purchased seed from a grain elevator and planted it. Because the vast majority of that seed came from Roundup Ready soybeans, it also contained Monsanto's patented technology.
NCGA joined the American Soybean Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, Growers for Biotechnology and a variety of state soybean associations in submitting a brief as amici curiae in support of the respondents. In the brief, the signatories asserted that a failure to uphold intellectual property laws in regard to later generation biotechnology products would directly harm farmers as it would impede the flow of valuable technology and lead to decreased research investment.
To read the full brief as submitted, click here.
Courts have repeatedly ruled that patent law protects innovations in agricultural biotechnologies, just as it protects innovations in computers, medicine, and other technologies. The principles apply to readily replicated or so-self-replicating products, such as seeds or cell lines, as they do to other patented products. Easily replicated products like seeds are highly vulnerable to patent violation specifically because they are easy to copy, like books or music, and they can be reproduced at an exponential rate.
By planting and cultivating the soybeans that contained patented technology without authorization, the petitioner in Bowman v. Monsanto created illegal copies, just as if he were copying a DVD, computer software or music. Most people respect the fact that downloading copyrighted music off the internet without permission is unfair to the artists and music industry professionals who produced it, as well as to the millions of people who buy the music lawfully, and most farmers understand that copying patented seeds is likewise unfair to those who play by the rules.