Monsanto will face farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman in front of the Supreme Court, the justices announced last week, agreeing to hear the dispute brought about by an appeal from Bowman—an Indiana soybean farmer targeted by the biotech industry giant.
Bowman was sued by Monsanto for alleged unauthorized use of the company’s patented GMO soybean seeds. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of Monsanto’s patent rights, ordering Bowman to pay nearly $85,000 to Monsanto—a company with more than $13.5 billion in annual revenue from its seed patent technology and proprietary pesticides. Soybean sales make up 13 percent of the company’s revenue.
Farmers that use Monsanto seeds are prohibited from saving or reusing seeds per purchasing agreements and are required to buy new seeds each crop season. This practice, Monsanto claims, protects the company’s seed patents and helps cover the costs of developing the technologies that make the seeds so desirable. According to the Monsanto website, the company sues farmers for patent infringement because “Without the protection of patents there would be little incentive for privately-owned companies to pursue and re-invest in innovation. Monsanto invests more than $2.6 million per day in research and development that ultimately benefits farmers and consumers. Without the protection of patents, this would not be possible.”
Bowman says that he did use Monsanto seeds for his first crop season, but he switched to cheaper soybeans he purchased from a grain elevator—and used those for the following eight years. Those seeds were also resistant to weed killing herbicides that the grain elevator harvested from farmers who had purchased seeds from Monsanto, claims Bowman. But Monsanto says they are the seeds sold to Bowman, and he has infringed on the patent rights as well as the agreement made when he first purchased the seeds.
Concerned over the affect the ruling could have on the booming biotech industry if overturned, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to pass on the case to protect the patent-driven industry, but the justices agreed to hear Bowman’s appeal.
Monsanto has come under scrutiny for filing 145 lawsuits against farmers since 1997, just in the United States. The company is also one of the targets in California’s Proposition 37 on the November ballot, which could make it the first state to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms. If passed, food manufacturers using ingredients like Monsanto’s GMO soybeans would have to note that on product packaging.
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