Back in 1999, Indiana soybean farmer Vernon Bowman purchased Roundup Ready seeds from biotech and agricultural giant Monsanto. The seeds are engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and under patent are protected from use beyond a single growing season.
Keeping in line with Monsanto’s licensing, Bowman purchased a new batch of seeds each growing season for the next several years. In 2007, he also purchased commodity seed from a grain elevator for a second planting late in the season. When he noticed that some of the commodity seeds withstood an application of Monsanto’s herbicide, he saved the seeds for the next year’s planting. Before long, he was neck-deep in a lawsuit.
This past week, Bowman lost the suit, reports Organic Authority. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington favored Monsanto, awarding the biotech giant nearly $85,000 for violation of patent licensing, despite Bowman’s protests that the patent rights no longer apply after seeds have been sold to a grain elevator.
According to Reuters, much of the regulation around licensing depends on who plants and sells the seeds:
Monsanto authorizes the growers to sell their second-generation seed to grain elevators as a commodity and does not require restrictions on grain elevators’ subsequent sales of that seed, the court said.
But that still does not give growers a green light to replicate Monsanto’s patented technology by planting it in the ground to create “newly infringing genetic material, seeds and plants,” the court found.
Bowman’s lawyer declares the verdict in conflict with “over a century of Supreme Court law on patent exhaustion.”
Bowman’s case isn’t the first of its kind. A report published in 2005 states that Monsanto has filed suit against more than 90 farmers for patent infringement.
Not all farmers did what Bowman did. Organic Authority points out an additional dilemma to finger pointing: “In some cases, growers facing lawsuits were victims of crop-drift, when seeds from neighboring farms unintentionally pollinated their non-GMO crops.”
As for Bowman, he can chose to appeal or cough up $85 grand.