U.S. SUPREME COURT justices signaled last month that Monsanto Co. was in a strong position to claim that an Indiana farmer violated its patented genetically modified soybeans.
In a case closely watched by the biotechnology industry, Reuters says the court is considering whether Vernon Bowman, 75, performed an end-run around the law when he bought soybean grain typically used for animal feed but planted it instead.
The soybean crop turned out to contain Monsanto’s patented genetics. Bowman says because the grain he used as seed was “second-generation” and not the first-generation sold by seed dealers, it isn’t covered by the patent.
The bulk of the argument focuses on whether patent protections extend to multiple generations of a self-replicating product such as seeds, with several justices indicating that patent law should protect companies like Monsanto.
Justice Stephen Breyer told Bowman’s lawyer that Bowman could use the seed he had purchased for other purposes, but could not harvest the crop from the next generation of seed. Several justices appeared concerned that a ruling for Bowman would stifle innovation.
“Why would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if, as soon as they sold the first one, anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?” said Chief Justice John Roberts.
A ruling is expected by the end of June.
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