On May 13, 2013, the Supreme Court delivered a unanimous decision determining that the doctrine of patent exhaustion does not provide a safe haven for a farmer to create new seeds by reproducing patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission. The case, Bowman v. Monsanto Co., affirms that the patent exhaustion doctrine does not extend to the right to make a new product.
Monsanto sells patented, genetically modified soybean seeds that are resistant to many herbicides, most notably, Monsanto’s own Roundup® agricultural herbicide. Monsanto markets these “Roundup Ready®” seeds to farmers seeking to use herbicides to kill weeds without damaging their crops. Farmers who use the Roundup Ready soybean seeds must enter into a special licensing agreement that permits farmers to use the seeds for one growing season only. Moreover, under the agreement, farmers may not save any of the harvested soybeans for replanting. Thus, the agreement’s terms essentially prevent farmers from producing their own Roundup Ready seeds from seeds purchased from Monsanto, and instead requires farmers to buy new seeds from Monsanto each season.
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