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Supreme Court favors Monsanto in seed saving case

The ruling in favor of Monsanto was unanimous in the Supreme Court decision regarding the seed saving case of Bowman v. Monsanto. The case centered on the protection of intellectual property.

“The Court’s ruling today ensures that longstanding principles of patent law apply to breakthrough 21st century technologies that are central to meeting the growing demands of our planet and its people,” said David F. Snively, Executive Vice President, Secretary, and General Counsel of Monsanto. “The ruling also provides assurance to all inventors throughout the public and private sectors that they can and should continue to invest in innovation that feeds people, improves lives, creates jobs, and allows America to keep its competitive edge.”

Justice Elena Kagan said the Supreme Court justices intended their decision to have a narrow focus.

“Our holding today is limited — addressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicating product,” she wrote. “We recognize that such inventions are becoming ever more prevalent, complex, and diverse. In another case, the article’s self-replication might occur outside the purchaser’s control. Or it might be a necessary but incidental step in using the item for another purpose.”

Despite the narrow focus of the ruling, many in the industry see the decision as having wide reaching implications.

“By ruling unanimously in favor of maintaining the integrity of intellectual property laws, the Supreme Court has ensured that America’s soybean farmers, of which Mr. Bowman is one, can continue to rely on the technological innovation that has pushed American agriculture to the forefront of the effort to feed a global population projected to pass 9 billion by 2050,” said Danny Murphy, American Soybean Association (ASA) president. “Intellectual property protection sparked a sea change in investments by public and private seed breeders into improved seeds for soybeans and other crops. The Supreme Court’s decision today recognized that if you take away the incentive for those entities to strive for a better seed, they won’t make those investments and farmers eventually won’t have the benefits of improved seeds.”

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.

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