High court rules for Monsanto in patent case

Eyewitness News interviewed farmer Vernon Bowman in February.

The Supreme Court has sustained Monsanto Co.'s claim that an Indiana farmer violated the company's patents on soybean seeds that are resistant to its weed-killer.

The justices, in a unanimous vote Monday, rejected Vernon Bowman's argument that cheap soybeans he bought from a grain elevator are not covered by the Monsanto patents, even though most of them also were genetically modified to resist the company's Roundup herbicide.

Justice Elena Kagan says a farmer who buys patented seeds must have the patent holder's permission.

Monsanto has a policy to protect its investment in seed development that prohibits farmers from saving or reusing the seeds once the crop is grown. Farmers must buy new seeds every year.

Bowman wanted to use the company's seed to plant double crops - wheat and then soybeans. The company said he could not do that and it said he couldn't buy outbound grain from the local seed bin, either.

"They said the elevator could not sell us seed out of those bins. That's illegal but we could buy outbound grain and then use it as seed. We had that right long before Monsanto had their patent right," Bowman argued.

The case posed the question of whether Bowman's actions violated patent rights held by Monsanto, which developed soybean and other seeds that survive when farmers spray their fields with the company's Roundup brand weed-killer. The seeds dominate American agriculture.

Read more about the case here.

The legal fight is about whether farmers like Bowman can plant Monsanto's patented seeds. Although seeds might be the oldest "technology" around, Monsanto argues that no one has the right to make "copies" of those seeds - which essentially means farmers cannot plant the seeds that they save from Monsanto plants.

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