The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of biotech giant Monsanto, closing the door on a patent case that has pitted a smalltime farmer from Indiana against a titan of the agriculture industry.
The high court said early Monday that 75-year-old farmer Vernon Bowman of Indiana violated Monsanto’s patent rights when he purchased a mix of seeds from a grain elevator that he later planted on his Midwest farm. That mix included patented Roundup Ready soybean seeds manufactured by Monsanto that are sold under license because they can hold up against their namesake, a nasty pesticide regularly used on farms.
Bowman argued that he could do whatever he wanted with the Roundup Ready seeds since he obtained them rightfully from a grain elevator and the terms of Monsanto’s licensing agreement under the patent did not apply to him. Under Monsanto’s terms, Roundup Ready seeds can only be harvested once and must not be saved or reused.
“If they don’t want me to go to the elevator and buy that grain, then Congress should pass a law saying you can’t do it,” Bowman told RT in February.
“If they then claim that I can’t use that, they’re forcing their patent on me,” Bowman he said to Huffington Post earlier this year. “No law was ever passed that said no farmers can’t go to the elevator and buy grain and use it, so to me they either forced their patent on me or they abandoned their patent by allowing it to be dumped it with non-Roundup grain.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court decided unanimously that Bowman indeed violated the licensing terms.
“By planting and harvesting Monsanto’s patented seeds, Bowman made additional copies of Monsanto’s patented invention, and his conduct thus falls outside the protections of patent exhaustion,” the court ruled. “Were this otherwise, Monsanto’s patent would provide scant benefit. After Monsanto sold its first seed, other seed companies could produce the patented seed to compete with Monsanto, and farmers would need to buy seed only once.”