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In a historic 6 to 2 ruling, the United States Supreme Court recently upheld the patentability of plants and seed, a ruling that will prove extremely beneficial to the biotechnology industry.
The ruling keeps intact hundreds of patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over the past 17 years. Having spent billions of dollars to genetically modify crops, the U.S. biotechnology industry argued that the patents on these plants were essential to protect their plant modifications.
This ruling represents a significant change from earlier U.S. policy when Congress went to great lengths to keep plants in public hands. In earlier days, farmers were able to save seed for use during the next planting season, even though the seed had inherited special characteristics developed by seed suppliers. Seed companies also weren’t able to stop competitors from using all of the latest research findings.
But the 1985 decision by the patent office to issue utility patents on seed dramatically changed the picture. The original court case argued that the special exemptions created for farmers by Congress in the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970 made the 1985 patenting of plants illegal. However, this argument didn’t hold up in the lengthy appeals process that eventually led to the Supreme Court ruling.