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Monsanto Seed Case Closed

Intellectual Property: Supreme Court refuses to revive challenge to company’s ability to sue for damages

by Glenn Hess
January 20, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 3

Credit: Newscom
Farmers worry that they may be sued if their crops become inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto’s engineered crops, such as soybeans.
This is a photo of a genetically modified four sprout soybean at the Monsanto Research facility in Chesterfield, Missouri.
Credit: Newscom
Farmers worry that they may be sued if their crops become inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto’s engineered crops, such as soybeans.

Monsanto has pursued more than 800 patent infringement cases against farmers who the agribusiness giant says have intentionally planted its genetically engineered seeds without paying for the technology.

Hoping to avoid a similar fate, a group of organic farmers and seed sellers filed a lawsuit in 2011. Their intent was to block Monsanto from suing farmers if their crops were found to inadvertently contain traces of the company’s herbicide-resistant genes.

The plaintiffs, led by the Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA), argued that they need legal protection in case wind or insects carry the genetically modified seeds or pollen from other fields onto their cropland. In their suit, the group asked that Monsanto be required to preemptively pledge not to sue them because they do not use the biotech seeds.

A federal district court in New York and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., both ruled against the plaintiffs. The courts pointed out that Monsanto had never sued anyone for accidental pollination and had publicly committed not to do so.

Last week, the Supreme Court handed Monsanto another victory in its legal battle to protect its patents by refusing to hear the case, thus leaving intact the appeals court ruling.

Monsanto welcomed the decision. The St. Louis-based biotech company “never has and has committed it never will sue if our patented seed or traits are found in a farmer’s field as a result of inadvertent means,” says Kyle McClain, Monsanto’s chief litigation counsel. “The Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case brings closure on this matter.”

Jim Gerritsen, president of OSGATA, says the justices “failed to grasp the extreme predicament” family farmers find themselves in. “This high court, which gave corporations the ability to patent life-forms in 1980, has now in 2014 denied farmers the basic right of protecting themselves from the notorious patent bully Monsanto.”

Since the late 1990s, Monsanto has filed more than 140 lawsuits against farmers for planting the firm’s patented seeds without permission, while settling around 700 other cases without litigation.



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