This Forum commented earlier on a pending case before the Supreme Court where a farmer in
soybean seed at the local grain elevator and planted them. He had legal ownership of the seeds but
Monsanto objected to his planning them because the seeds were second generation
from Monsanto seeds that had patented protection from weed killer.
The Supreme Court decided that no, the farmer did not have the right to plant the seeds.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that farmers could not use Monsanto’s patented genetically altered soybeans to create new seeds without paying the company a fee.
The ruling has implications for many aspects of modern agriculture and for businesses based on vaccines, cell lines and software. But Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, emphasized that the decision was narrow.
Not an easy case in a non-legal sense. The feeling here is that once a person legally acquires a product he or she may do with it as they wish. And the Court affirmed most of that.
Mr. Bowman’s main argument was that a doctrine called patent exhaustion allowed him to do what he liked with products he had obtained legally. But Justice Kagan said it did not apply to the way he had used the seeds.
“Under the patent exhaustion doctrine, Bowman could resell the patented soybeans he purchased from the grain elevator; so too he could consume the beans himself or feed them to his animals,” she wrote.
“But the exhaustion doctrine does not enable Bowman to make additional patented soybeans without Monsanto’s permission,” she continued, “and that is precisely what Bowman
There is some hope
“Our holding today is limited — addressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicating product,” 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.”
But for now, score one for the big guys and a big loss for the little guys.