The facts behind the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Monsanto v. Bowman are simple enough. Farmers are able to buy soybeans containing Monsanto’s patented glyphosate resistance technology under a license that permits them to plant and grow one generation of crops. Vernon Bowman skirted this program, however, by purchasing commodity soybeans from a grain elevator knowing that the seeds would nonetheless likely contain the very same Monsanto technology. He then planted the seeds, raised crops, and saved seeds from these crops to plant new crops. The Supreme Court held that Bowman’s actions infringed Monsanto’s patents because unlicensed growth of the seeds was a new making of the patented invention. Consequently, the doctrine of patent exhaustion did not provide any defense as to these new seeds.
This was not a surprising result for the biotechnology industry. The idea that patent rights in seed progeny are not exhausted by the original sale of their “parents” was well established in the United States, and is even codified in the European Biotechnology Directive.
Originally published in Law360.com on May 23, 2013.
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