The seeds of intellectual property: Supreme Court sides with Monsanto in major patent case; Chair of Rose Law Group Intellectual Property department, Robert Iussa agrees with ruling

Vernon Hugh Bowman, an Indiana farmer, ran afoul of patent law. / Aaron P. Bernstein for The New York Times
Vernon Hugh Bowman, an Indiana farmer, ran afoul of patent law. / Aaron P. Bernstein for The New York Times

By Richard Wolf | USA TODAY

The Supreme Court usually isn’t friendly toward questionable patents, but it came down overwhelmingly on the side of agribusiness giant Monsanto Monday in a case that’s bound to resonate throughout the biotechnology industry.

The court ruled unanimously that an Indiana farmer violated Monsanto’s patent on genetically modified soybeans when he culled some from a grain elevator and used them to replant his own crop in future years.

“If simple copying were a protected use, a patent would plummet in value after the first sale of the first item containing the invention,” Justice Elena Kagan ruled in a short 10-page opinion. “The undiluted patent monopoly, it might be said, would extend not for 20 years as the Patent Act promises, but for only one transaction. And that would result in less incentive for innovation than Congress wanted.”

Who it helps: Inventors and entrepreneurs who have patents on products that can be self-replicated, from computer software to cell lines. While Kagan’s decision is limited to the Monsanto case, it bolsters the argument that self-replicating products can be protected from patent infringement even if their challengers go through third parties.

Statement by Robert Iussa, chairman Rose Law Group Intellectual Property Dept.: “This was an interesting case.  I think the high court got it right.  In this case, people were having a difficult time with the self-replicating aspect of the technology, i.e. the seeds.

Certainly Monsanto did not develop its seed only to have it replicated thousands of times over as plants naturally do . . . to let the farmer then take those seeds and never have to buy another seed again from Monsanto.  If that were the case, then Monsanto would need to charge several thousands of dollars for a single see so as to recoup its investment and realize a profit.  Makes sense.

I don’t see why this was such a difficult case.  The decision clearly upholds the intent of the Constitution to reward innovators with a limited monopoly. On the flip side, I need to read the decision to understand completely the details.


If you’d like to discuss intellectual property issues, contact Robert Iussa, chairman Rose Law Group Intellectual Property Dept.,


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