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Supreme Court Case: Ag Innovation Wins

Defending Agriculture

Why the court ruled for Monsanto

Published on: May 15, 2013

On Monday the United States Supreme Court handed down its opinion in the Bowman v. Monsanto Soybean case.  I wrote about this case on October 25, 2012, before I was retained to represent various commodity groups before the U.S. Supreme Court on the Bowman case.

I stated at the time that "Bowman knowingly reproduced Monsanto's patented seeds to the tune of millions of times and profited without paying Monsanto for its intellectual property and hard work.  Bowman created an advantage for himself by not paying his fair share and that is unfair to all producers who play by the rules.  In my opinion, Mr. Bowman should lose the case."  This week, he lost. 

The ten-page opinion is dense with legal arguments regarding the doctrine of patent exhaustion, which limits a patentee's right to control what others can do with an article embodying or containing an invention.  As we all know when we buy a new tractor or combine, the initial authorize sale terminates all patent rights to that item. We can use the article any way we want to use it; however, not many of us would believe that we can take our new tractor or combine, construct another identical machine for our own use. 

The Supreme Court made it clear that Mr. Bowman's position which would allow a purchaser of an article or machine to make and sell endless copies and an inventor's patent would effectively protect just a single sale.  This is simply not common sense, and the court said as much. 

The American consumer, society, and the American farmer won in this case, because intellectual property and future seed technologies will continue to be created. The case result maintains incentive for private companies to invest in seed research. 

Opponents of Monsanto and GMO's do not understand the self pollinating or replicating aspect of soybeans, rice, wheat, barley, and peanuts.  The self pollinating plant produces a genetically identical or nearly identical offspring from the parent plant.  The Supreme Court, recognizing this fundamental principal, agreed with The American Soybean Association (ASA) and other commodity groups that Monsanto's invention must be protected.  

In fact, I would argue, as we did in the ASA brief, that crop bio-technology has allowed for enormous increases in productivity and fewer adverse environmental impacts.    

Prior to 1995, only 27% of Soybeans were grown in a no till system.  Today it's nearly 90%.  No till and conservation tillage has allowed us to reduce our water runoff by 69%, our phosphorous runoff by 81%, and our herbicide runoff by 70%.  The ASA brief is filled with statistics which will help you understand the importance of today's Supreme Court victory and why this is a victory for the American farmer.