Monsanto Defeats Farmer in Soybean Patent Case

Supreme Court rules farmers can't grow second crop from patented seeds

By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff

Posted May 13, 2013 3:12 PM CDT

(Newser) – Sometimes Goliath beats David—or Vernon, as the case may be. Seventy-six-year-old farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman has lost his Supreme Court battle with Monsanto over his use of patented soybean seeds, the New York Times reports. The court upheld an $84,000 lawsuit brought against Bowman by the agribusiness giant for growing and saving its seeds without paying a fee. Bowman had obtained the seeds from a grain elevator intended for animal feed, and argued that a doctrine called "patent exhaustion" allowed him to do as he pleased with the grain once he had purchased it. This may be true if he wanted to eat the seeds, but Justice Elena Kagan ruled that it does not extend to growing more seeds and replanting them without paying Monsanto for their use.

But this case was about more than a few soybeans. Other industries with self-replicating products—from biotechnology to software—were paying close attention to see if their patents would remain safe, USA Today reports. But Kagan warned the outcome of this one case did not necessarily assure their futures. "Our holding today is limited," she wrote. "We recognize that such inventions are becoming ever more prevalent, complex, and diverse. 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."

Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer, speaks with reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington.
Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer, speaks with reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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