Supreme Court sides with Monsanto about seed patents

This wasn’t really a surprise to anyone, but the Supreme Court released their decision and opinion in the Bowman v. Monsanto Co. case. The case revolved around a farmer purchasing soybean seed from a local elevator, planting the seed, spraying it with Roundup, then harvesting the seed to plant the following season. He did this for several seasons in a row. The supreme court ruled unanimously (9-0) that what the farmer did violated patent law. The supreme court decision (authored by Justice Kagan) can be read in its entirety here. Some excerpts from the opinion:

“The question in this case is whether a farmer who buys patented seeds may reproduce them  through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission. We hold that he may not.”

A fairly clear decision. The nuts and bolts of their reasoning:

“Under the patent exhaustion doctrine, Bowman could resell the patented soybeans he  purchased from the grain elevator; so too he could consume the beans himself or feed them to his animals. Monsanto, although the patent holder, would have no business interfering in those uses of Roundup Ready beans. But the exhaustion doctrine does not enable Bowman to make additional patented soybeans without Monsanto’s permission (either express or implied). And that is precisely what Bowman did. He took the soybeans he purchased home; planted them in his fields at the time he thought best; applied glyphosate to kill weeds (as well as any soy plants lacking the Roundup Ready trait); and finally harvested more (many more) beans than he started with. That is how “to ‘make’ a new product,” to use Bowman’s words, when the original product is a seed.”

“Because Bowman thus reproduced Monsanto’s patented invention, the exhaustion doctrine does not protect him.”

And they were careful to limit their decision today from being expanded to other types of self-replicating technologies:

“Our holding today is limited—addressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicating product. 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.”

Also, have a read through NPR’s coverage of the decision.

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