The Supreme Court voted unanimously to side with Monsanto and its claim that an Indiana farmer violated its patent on Roundup Ready soybean seeds.
The case involved Indiana farmer, Vernon Bowman, who bought Roundup Ready soybean seed for his first crop of each growing season in accordance with the terms of the licensing agreement. However, to reduce his costs for a riskier late-season planting, he purchased soybeans intended for consumption from a grain elevator. He planted them, treated the plants with glyphosate, harvested the remaining soybeans that contained that trait, and saved some of these harvested seeds to use in his late-season planting the next season.
Monsanto took Bowman to court for patent violations. In his defense, Bowman argued he was protected by the patent exhaustion doctrine, which essentially states that a patent holder’s rights terminate after the first authorized sale of an article that embodies a patent. Monsanto disagreed, saying that under the original Agreement signed by Bowman, the seed could never be sold for purposes of replanting.
The Supreme Court also disagreed. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said, "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. If simple copying were a protected use, a patent would plummet in value after the first sale of the first item containing the invention. The undiluted patent monopoly, it might be said, would extend not for 20 years (as the Patent Act promises), but for only one transaction.”
Kagan also wrote that she was rejecting another "seeds-are-special argument" by Bowman. He had claimed that soybeans naturally sprout unless stored in a controlled manner, and so it was the soybeans, rather than Bowman, that made replicas of Monsanto's patented invention.
According to a statement by Monsanto’s Executive Vice President David Snively, "The court's ruling today ensures that longstanding principles of patent law apply to breakthrough 21st century technologies that are central to meeting the growing demands of our planet and its people."
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