The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in Bowman v. Monsanto, the case of an Indiana farmer that contends he did not infringe on Monsanto's patent rights when he planted soybean seeds derived from soybeans containing a patented Monsanto gene.
In the case, Bowman challenged the enforceability of Monsanto's patent rights after buying soybeans containing the patented technology from a local grain elevator and, from 1999 to 2007, planting, cultivating, and harvesting them to create a supply of soybeans containing the technology. The patents in the technology expire in 2014.
In court arguments, Monsanto said patent rights enable innovation in biotechnology and other fields where breakthrough discoveries require substantial R&D investments that depend upon the protections afforded under U.S. patent law.
"America's leadership in fostering the incentive to invest in research and development has created the world's leading innovation economy, with millions of high-technology jobs—not just in our field of agriculture, but in other R&D-intensive fields like medicine, biotechnology, computer science and environmental science," said David Snively, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Monsanto.
Additionally, a number of organizations and individuals filed "friend of the court" briefs urging the Supreme Court to uphold the lower courts' rulings in favor of Monsanto. This group included leading universities and research institutions; national farm groups; biotechnology companies; professors of economics and intellectual property; and representatives of the computer software industry.
Organizations that supported a ruling that protects intellectual property included: the American Soybean Association, the American Seed Trade Association, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a coalition of leading universities (including the University of California, Duke University, Emory University, the University of Illinois, Iowa State, the University of Kansas, Kansas State, the University of Missouri-Columbia, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and other university organizations such as the Association of American Universities, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities), the Intellectual Property Owners Association, the Washington Legal Foundation, and the Business Software Alliance.
Monsanto says the briefs and support from the farm organizations highlight the importance of patent protection in supporting agricultural innovation.