Fight over Seed Patents Between Monsanto and Farmer Reaches High Court

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    The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments today in a legal battle between agricultural giant Monsanto and a 75-year-old Indiana farmer. Monsanto accused Vernon Hugh Bowman of infringing on their seed patents after he planted soybeans purchased from a local grain elevator that contained a Monsanto gene.

    In fact, more than 90 percent of soybeans in Indiana reportedly contain the gene, which allows them to survive when sprayed with the company’s Roundup weed killer. Bowman is appealing his case after he was ordered to pay Monsanto $84,000.

    Critics have accused Monsanto of using their patents to try to monopolize the supply of certain crops. The case could potentially impact patents across multiple industries.

    http://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/19/headlines#21912
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  3. 16 Comments so far...

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    Vernon Hugh Bowman will take on Monsanto in Supreme Court case

    With his mere 300 acres of soybeans, corn and wheat, Vernon Hugh Bowman said, "I'm not even big enough to be called a farmer."

    Yet the 75-year-old farmer from southwestern Indiana will face off Tuesday against the world's largest seed company, Monsanto, in a Supreme Court case that could have a huge impact on the future of genetically modified crops, and also affect other fields from medical research to software.

    At stake in Bowman's case is whether patents on seeds — or other things that can self-replicate — extend beyond the first generation of the products.

    It is one of two cases before the Supreme Court related to the patenting of living organisms, a practice that has helped give rise to the biotechnology industry but which critics have long considered immoral. ...

    ... Monsanto says that a victory for Bowman would allow farmers to essentially save seeds from one year's crop to plant the next year, eviscerating patent protection....

    http://www.denverpost.com/business/c...-supreme-court
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    hhhmmm...

    Seems like he buys seeds once and then grows his own...sounds fair to me.
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    i think this case could have a huge impact on the power Monsato uses to force farmers to use their products. GM seed is a huge deal all over the world. i could not find it quickly this morning but Monsanto is behind a huge percent of food both here and sent all over the world.

    organic and near organic foods and farming are becoming more popular. In some areas of the country these organic farms are huge users of water in areas where water is scarce. Small, individual farms are frowing micro crops and selling them at high prices because they are using non-modified seeds (now rare to find even).

    It is another reason we need to buy local and know where our food comes from. We also need to recognize that good quality food grown in micro farms will cost more. Believe me it is worth it to eat foods that are without chemicals.

    If Monsanto wins the cost of seeds will escalate as all farmers will have to purchase 100% of th GM seed to grow large quantities of their crop. This, in turn, will be paid in higher prices at the store. If they lose, the stock market will really feel something. The futures market will be destroyed in a way that may cause some stock owners to jump out windows, figuratively only, one would hope.

    To me it is a bit like some drugs that are th property of one manufacturer. I take Arthotec. The new generic just came out. It drops the price dramatically. Te original drug manufacturer made a bundle before it was able to be replicated. If mansanto is not stopped it would be like never having the option of a generic.

    it is an important case and one of a David and Goliath back story. Monsanto figured it could use it's bank of lawyers to break not only this farmer, but every farmer who would challenge them.

    Best wishes to the farmer.
    Elvish, tewdles, and herring_RN like this.
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    How does Monsanto (or any other supplier, for that matter) force anyone to use their products? Do they hold farmers at gun point to prevent the planting of other brands of seeds?

    I think that generic medications are probably a good comparison to seeds. The manufacturer of a new drug has exclusive rights for a period of time to be able to recoup the costs of research, development and initial marketing. Eventually, the "recipe" becomes public domain. And like medications, a period of several years is probably reasonable to enable Monsanto to benefit from the substantial investment required to develop seeds. One season of growth in commercial farming is not enough.

    If an individual purchases seeds in limited quantity for personal comsumption, that may be a different story. S/he is not profiting from that investment, simply feeding his/her family from a garden. But to allow a farmer to purchase a limited quantity of seeds, then reap infinite financial benefit from that one-time purchase is not reasonable. That makes as much sense as buying a Big Mac, then demanding to be given the recipe so that I can open my own restaurant and profit from McDonald's recipe and product development.

    I can record downloaded music multiple times as long as it is used for my personal enjoyment, but if I plan to play it publicly or broadcast it for profit, I must purchase usage rights. Why should seeds be any different from i-tunes?

    If seed development was a simple and inexpensive process, the farmer would be doing it himself.
    Last edit by Jolie on Mar 1, '13
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    Brazilian Soybean Growers to Sue Monsanto for Royalty Payments - Bloomberg
    Brazil’s soybean growers association plans to sue Monsanto Co. (MON), the world’s biggest seed company, for charging royalty payments two years after a patent expired, the head of the association known as Aprosoja said.
    “We want Monsanto to give back to producers 1.2 billion reais ($606.7 million) of royalties charged incorrectly,” Glauber Silveira told reporters in Brasilia. Monsanto, based in St. Louis, also faces lawsuits from producers in the Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul and Mato Grosso.
    Brazil’s Superior Court denied an appeal from Monsanto last week to extend the patent that expired in 2010 for a genetically modified soybean seed called RR1. The company yesterday said that it would suspend RR1 royalties until the case is resolved. Monsanto appealed and is seeking to have the case heard by Brazil’s Supreme Court.

    US supreme court hears Monsanto soybean patent case | Environment | guardian.co.uk
    Here's what happened: Bowman bought seeds from a grain elevator that sold soybeans as grain for animal feed, industrial use, or other non-planting purposes. The elevator contained a lot of "second generation" Roundup Ready seeds—the spawn of original seeds that other farmers had bought and harvested from Monsanto. That's not surprising, since "[Roundup Ready soybeans are] probably the most rapidly adopted technological advance in history," said Seth Waxman, who is representing Monsanto. "The very first Roundup Ready soybean seed was only made in 1996. And it now is grown by more than 90 percent of the 275,000 soybean farms in the United States."

    The article from The Guardian answers some of Jolie's questions.
    90% of farms use these seeds so the small non-genetically modified seed companies have a great deal of difficulty in competing. The case goes back to 2007 and the farmer did not save his own seeds to plant, he bought seed grain that had been GM. Given the amount of RR seeds it is not surprising that he had GM seeds that he could plant.

    Monsanto is no stranger to patent battles: Think Progress reports that the company devotes $10 million per year and 75 staffers to investigating and prosecuting farmers for patent violations. It has also sued more than 400 farmers over the last 13 years for patent infringement.
    tewdles likes this.
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    Quote from Jolie
    How does Monsanto (or any other supplier, for that matter) force anyone to use their products? Do they hold farmers at gun point to prevent the planting of other brands of seeds?
    I do understand patent protection and largely agree with it. However, in this case there is a way that nature "forces" farmers to use Monsanto genes. It's called cross pollination and it occurs when the wind or insects travel from a GMO field to a neighboring non-GMO field. Monsanto has threatened to sue many farmers who save their own seeds when they've found their gene has contaminated the farmer's crop. At least 700 farmers have settled rather than face court costs trying to fight a large corporation.

    I agree that if a farmer is buying seeds knowing they have the copyrighted gene and intending to raise a crop he should pay for the benefit. However, it doesn't seem fair to force a farmer to buy fresh seed each year because each year's crop gets contaminated by genes from his neighbors.

    Many of these farmers claim to not have had the intention to grow or save seeds that contain Monsanto's patented genes. Seed contamination and pollen drift from genetically engineered crops often migrate to neighboring fields. If Monsanto's seed technology is found on a farmer's land without a contract the farmer can be found liable for patent infringement. - See more at: http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/i....lnmPAQnV.dpuf
    Hard to Believe: Monsanto Won
    Last edit by azhiker96 on Mar 3, '13 : Reason: add quoted material
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    Quote from azhiker96
    I do understand patent protection and largely agree with it. However, in this case there is a way that nature "forces" farmers to use Monsanto genes. It's called cross pollination and it occurs when the wind or insects travel from a GMO field to a neighboring non-GMO field. Monsanto has threatened to sue many farmers who save their own seeds when they've found their gene has contaminated the farmer's crop. At least 700 farmers have settled rather than face court costs trying to fight a large corporation.

    I agree that if a farmer is buying seeds knowing they have the copyrighted gene and intending to raise a crop he should pay for the benefit. However, it doesn't seem fair to force a farmer to buy fresh seed each year because each year's crop gets contaminated by genes from his neighbors.



    Hard to Believe: Monsanto Won
    It may not be fair, but I believe it's a central part of Monsanto's business plan.
    aknottedyarn likes this.
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    Excerpted from a press release from the Center for Food Safety:
    Debbie Barker, Program Director for Save Our Seeds and Senior Writer for the Report, said today: “Corporations did not create seeds and many are challenging the existing patent system that allows private companies to assert ownership over a resource that is vital to survival, and that, historically, has been in the public domain.”
    Among the report’s discoveries are several alarming statistics:

    • As of January 2013, Monsanto, alleging seed patent infringement, had filed 144 lawsuits involving 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in at least 27 different states.
    • Today, three corporations control 53 percent of the global commercial seed market.
    • Seed consolidation has led to market control resulting in dramatic increases in the price of seeds. From 1995-2011, the average cost to plant one acre of soybeans has risen 325 percent; for cotton prices spiked 516 percent and corn seed prices are up by 259 percent.

    The report also disputes seed industry claims that present seed patent rules are necessary for seed innovation. As Bill Freese, senior scientist at Center for Food Safety and one of the report’s contributors notes: “Most major new crop varieties developed throughout the 20th century owe their origin to publicly funded agricultural research and breeding.”

    Additionally, Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers reports a precipitous drop in seed diversity that has been cultivated for millennia. As the report notes: 86% of corn, 88% of cotton, and 93% of soybeans farmed in the U.S. are now genetically-engineered (GE) varieties, making the option of farming non-GE crops increasingly difficult.

    While agrichemical corporations also claim that their patented seeds are leading to environmental improvements, the report notes that upward of 26 percent more chemicals per acre were used on GE crops than on non-GE crops, according to USDA data.

    Further, in response to an epidemic of weed resistance to glyphosate, the primary herbicide used on GE crops, Dow AgroSciences is seeking USDA approval of “next generation” corn and soybeans resistant to 2,4-D, an active ingredient in Agent Orange. Monsanto is seeking approval for GE dicamba-resistant soybeans, corn, and cotton.
    http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/2...s-u-s-farmers/

    And the original report:http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/w...ants_final.pdf

    The bits I've bolded speak directly to Jolie's and azhiker's posts about choosing to avoid buying Monsanto's seed. Given the cross-pollination issue and Monsanto's position that any surviving genetic material, no matter how many generations removed from the original Monsanto seed, is covered by patent protection, we can see how the freedom to save one's own seed or buy unpatented seed is disappearing fast.

    As I understand the facts of the case before the supreme court, the seed over which the farmer is being sued came from a grain elevator and could not be identified as to source or history. For all we can know, the genetic material from Monsanto could have been from crops contaminated several generations ago.

    So ... Monsanto wants to control the use of not only the seed it produces itself, but all the crops contaminated by it's modified crops and all succeeding generations of both classes.

    Ummm ... no.
    Last edit by heron on Mar 3, '13 : Reason: added the links
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    And, given a recent study suggesting that gmo crops tend to have lower yields, it's unclear whether any farmer worth her salt would want the dang stuff.

    For years the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.

    That promise has proven to be empty, according to Failure to Yield, a report by UCS expert Doug Gurian-Sherman released in March 2009. Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.
    Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops (2009) | Union of Concerned Scientists

    The original report: http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documen...e-to-yield.pdf
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