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Supreme Court’s ruling for Monsanto described as good decision

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The Supreme Court of the United States decision upholding the patent owned by Monsanto Co. was surprising only in its unanimous affirmation.

In Vernon Hugh Bowman v. Monsanto Co. et al., 11-796, the justices held that the doctrine of patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce genetically modified seeds without the patent holder’s permission. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion for the court.

“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,” Kagan wrote. “Patent exhaustion provides no haven for that conduct.”

The decision could indicate that the court ended up having second thoughts on accepting the case for review, said Mark Janis, director of the Center for Intellectual Property Research at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

When Bowman petitioned for a writ of certiorari in December 2011, the solicitor general advised the court to deny the petition. The United States maintained that the petitioner’s primary argument – that the Federal Circuit’s “conditional sale” doctrine was inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s patent-exhaustion decisions – was not properly presented in this case.

The high court granted the writ anyway which, in cases involving patent law, usually indicates the Supreme Court will reverse the Federal Circuit’s decision, Janis said. However, the unanimous affirmation might be read as the court agreeing with the solicitor general’s view.

For eight years, Bowman, an Indiana farmer, planted two soybean crops. For his first soybean crop, Bowman purchased seeds created by Monsanto that were genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup Ready herbicide. He also signed the agreement limiting him to planting the seeds for one season only.

However, for a second crop planted late in the growing season, Bowman went to the grain elevator and bought commodity seeds. He discovered these seeds contained the same herbicide-resistant trait.

Monsanto sued, claiming Bowman was infringing on its patent. Bowman countered with a patent-exhaustion defense, arguing he was using the seeds in the normal way and allowing Monsanto to retain its patent right would “create an impermissible exception to the exhaustion doctrine.”

The Supreme Court ruled Bowman was making additional copies of patented soybeans without Monsanto’s permission, an activity that falls outside the protections of patent exhaustion.

“It is good to see that they confirmed that a plant reproducing a patented gene is something protectable,” said intellectual property attorney Jay Sanders, partner at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. “I think in this case, they did a pretty good job of reading the facts before them.”

The court was careful to point out that its ruling was limited to the situation presented by Bowman in saving and replicating seeds. It does not apply to every case involving a self-replicating product.•

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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