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SCOTUS rules against Indiana farmer in seed patent case

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A unanimous Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that patent exhaustion doesn’t allow a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission.

The justices handed down the ruling Monday morning in Bowman v. Monsanto Co., et al., 11-796, in which Monsanto Co. sued Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman for patent infringement. Bowman purchased Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready soybeans from an authorized dealer for his first crop of the season. Those seeds have been genetically altered to survive exposure to the herbicide glyphosate.

But in an effort to reduce planting costs, Bowman purchased soybeans intended for consumption from a grain elevator and planted them later in the season. He harvested some of the soybeans that contained the Roundup Ready trait to use again for late-season planting in the next season.

The purchase agreement of Roundup Ready soybeans permits a grower to plant those seeds in only one season, and a grower may not save them for replanting or supply them to anyone else for that purpose.

The District Court in the Southern District of Indiana ruled in favor of Monsanto, which the Federal Circuit affirmed, awarding nearly $85,000 in damages to Monsanto.

Bowman argued that exhaustion shouldn’t apply in this case because he is using seeds in the normal way farmers do. Allowing Monsanto to interfere with that use would create an impermissible exception to the exhaustion doctrine for patented seeds.

“Our holding today is limited — addressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicating product. We recognize that such inventions are becoming ever more prevalent, complex, and diverse,” Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote, noting it was Bowman, and not the bean, who controlled the reproduction of Monsanto’s patented invention. “In another case, the article’s self-replication might occur outside the purchaser’s control. Or it might be a necessary but incidental step in using the item for another purpose. We need not address here whether or how the doctrine of patent exhaustion would apply in such circumstances.

“In the case at hand, Bowman planted Monsanto’s patented soybeans solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article. Patent exhaustion provides no haven for that conduct,” the court held.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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