Indiana farmer’s tangle with seed producer over patent infringement gets SCOTUS review

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The Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to review a federal appeals court decision regarding patent infringement in a case involving an Indiana farmer and a seed producer.

At issue in Vernon Hugh Bowman v. Monsanto Company and Monsanto Technology LLC, 11-796, is whether the federal circuit erred by refusing to find a patent exhaustion in patented seeds even after an authorized sale and by creating an exception to the doctrine of patent exhaustion for self-replicating technologies.
In his petition for a writ of certiorari, Vernon Bowman contends the case merits a review by the Supreme Court because the federal circuit’s ruling conflicts with the high court’s precedents and is of “great importance to a wide swath of this country’s economy.”

Monsanto sued Bowman in October 2007 alleging patent infringement after it learned the Knox County farmer was growing more soybeans than his purchases from the company could generate.

Bowman typically planted two soybean crops during the season. For the first crop, he purchased Pioneer Hi-Bred soybean seeds from Pioneer Hi-Bred, a Monsanto licensed seed producer. For the second crop, which was planted later in the season and therefore was considered riskier, Bowman purchased commodity seeds from a local grain elevator.

He subsequently discovered that like the seeds he purchased from Pioneer for the first crop, the commodity seeds were not harmed or killed by the glyphosate-based herbicide. Also, unlike his first crop, Bowman saved seeds harvested from his second crop for replanting of additional late-season crops in later years.

Monsanto had developed and patented the biotechnology that made the seeds resistant to the herbicide, including the company’s Roundup brand herbicide. The seed producer argued its patent rights were not exhausted because of conditions in a licensing agreement, which Bowman signed, and because the protection is applicable to each generation of soybeans that contains the patented trait.

The U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana granted Monsanto’s motion for summary judgment in June 2009, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed in September 2011.    



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