On Tuesday, February 19, 2013, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Bowman v. Monsanto, a very important case for U.S. patent law and just about every research and development institution in the country.
The case centers on Monsanto’s patented soybeans that have been genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide. According to the statement of facts filed in the case, Bowman, a farmer, bought the soybeans from a third party. This third party, an original farmer under a contract with Monsanto, was not allowed to replant the soybeans. According to the doctrine of patent exhaustion, Monsanto’s patents cannot exert control over the use, destruction, or distribution of those soybeans once they are sold. Despite the prohibition on replanting, Bowman used the seeds to grow a second crop of soybeans, like farmers often do. However, because soybeans self-fertilize, soybeans from the second and subsequent generations are genetically identical to the first generation. Therefore, the subsequent crops are still within the protection of Monsanto’s patents.
Although this case is only about seeds, the decision will certainly have an impact in other areas as the technology behind genetically modified foods and self-replication becomes more prevalent in the future. The decision is expected later this summer.
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