The patent case pits the future of biotechnology innovation against high farm prices. For now, it looks like innovation is winning.

WASHINGTON — Monsanto’s patent for genetically modified soybeans appears safe in the Supreme Court’s hands. And that’s good news for innovations in biotechnology, computer software and other self-replicating products.

The biggest mystery arising from the justices’ 70-minute consideration Tuesday of an Indiana farmer’s challenge to Monsanto, in fact, was why they had agreed to hear the case at all, since two lower courts already had ruled for Monsanto.

In a classic case of David vs. Goliath, 75-year-old Vernon Hugh Bowman is challenging the agribusiness giant’s patent on soybeans that are resistant to the weed killer Roundup. He bought his first batch of “Roundup Ready” seeds from Monsanto but then bought a cheaper mixture from a grain elevator that included some Monsanto seeds.

It’s the third generation of seeds that’s at issue in the case, because Bowman then began replanting his own herbicide-resistant seeds — and that violated Monsanto’s patent, the company claims.

From Tuesday’s oral arguments, it didn’t seem Bowman had a vote in the room. “You cannot make copies of a patented invention,” said Justice Stephen Breyer.

It’s for that reason Monsanto has required farmers using its seeds to sign an agreement promising not to save and replant harvested seeds. But even if there was no license, the justices seemed to doubt Bowman’s right to create new generations of identical seed under patent law.

Bowman’s attorney, Mark Walters, argued that Monsanto’s patent rights were exhausted after the farmer bought his second round of seeds from the grain elevator. If that was not the case, he said, every grain elevator would be violating the patent, because Monsanto seeds are ubiquitous.

Besides, Walters argued, Bowman’s use of grain elevator seeds “is never going to be a threat to Monsanto’s business.”

 

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Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds

Christopher Berkey for The New York Times
Jason Hamlin, a certified crop adviser and agronomist, looks for weeds resistant to glyphosate in Dyersburg, Tenn.
By WILLIAM NEUMAN and ANDREW POLLACK
Published: May 3, 2010

Invasion of the Superweeds

Michael Pollan and others on what Roundup-resistant weeds mean for American agriculture.

But not this year.

On a recent afternoon here, Mr. Anderson watched as tractors crisscrossed a rolling field — plowing and mixing herbicides into the soil to kill weeds where soybeans will soon be planted.

Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.

To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.

“We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said Mr. Anderson, who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years. “We’re trying to find out what works.”

Farm experts say that such efforts could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water.

“It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,” said Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

The first resistant species to pose a serious threat to agriculture was spotted in a Delaware soybean field in 2000. Since then, the problem has spread, with 10 resistant species in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres, predominantly soybeans, cotton and corn.

The superweeds could temper American agriculture’s enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds.

Roundup — originally made by Monsanto but now also sold by others under the generic name glyphosate — has been little short of a miracle chemical for farmers. It kills a broad spectrum of weeds, is easy and safe to work with, and breaks down quickly, reducing its environmental impact.

Sales took off in the late 1990s, after Monsanto created its brand of Roundup Ready crops that were genetically modified to tolerate the chemical, allowing farmers to spray their fields to kill the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed. Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.

But farmers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward,” Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said.

 

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Who Owns Seeds? Monsanto Says Not You

Published: Friday, 15 Feb 2013 | 1:40 PM ET

By: CNBC Reporter

Say you’re a Hollywood studio who spent a couple hundred million dollars on a blockbuster movie. Someone buys it on DVD, and then proceeds to copy the DVD and sell those copies at a profit.

That would be against the law.

Can you make the same argument about buying patented seeds to grow a crop, and then keeping some of that first crop to reap seeds and grow a second crop? A third?

 

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The United States Supreme Court will decide that in a case involving a 75-year-old farmer from Indiana named Vernon Bowman. Monsanto sued Bowman in 2007, claiming the farmer has for years used seeds reaped from a first crop of Monsanto Roundup Ready soybean seeds to grow another crop.

Monsanto said that violates its patent, as farmers sign an agreement when they buy the seeds to only use them once. The resulting crop can be sold for things like feed or oil, not to create another generation of seeds.

From Monsanto’s perspective, what Bowman has done is like the farming version of Napster. From the farmer’s perspective, to force him to buy new seeds every year is a monopoly, and Monsanto’s patent should “expire” after the first crop.

Monsanto won in lower court, but Bowman has appealed, and in a move that caught corporate America off guard, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case next Tuesday.

 

Read Full Article  and Watch Video Here

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