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Supreme Court grants 7 cases, including seed patent dispute

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Friday granted seven new cases [order list, PDF]. In Bowman v. Monsanto Co. [docket; cert petition, PDF], the court will review the scope of a Monsanto [corporate website; JURIST news archive] patent [text] on genetically-modified seeds that utilizes Roundup Ready [official profile] technology. The seeds are altered to "self replicate," which means that the more one plants the seeds, additional seeds will be produced. Monsanto sued a number of farmers who were using the self-replicating technology in harvests after the season they purchased the seeds, arguing the farmers should have to purchase new seeds every year. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled for Monsanto [opinion], stating that patent exhaustion had not occurred because "once a grower, like Bowman, plants the commodity seeds containing Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology and the next generation of seed develops, the grower has created a newly infringing article."

In Alleyne v. United States [docket; cert petition, PDF] the court will consider whether to overturn Harris v. United States [opinion]. Harris was a 5-4 splintered opinion that allowed a judge to be the fact-finder when increasing mandatory minimum sentences, as opposed to requiring the question to go to the jury. Since the case was decided, the court has gained three new members, and two in the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, have left the court.

In Gunn v. Minton [docket; questions presented, PDF] the court will consider who should adjudicate a dispute arising out of patent law, which would require interpretation of patents but does not rule on the merit of the patent. The Texas Supreme Court ruled [opinion] that federal courts had exclusive jurisdiction over any issue arising from a patent dispute. In this case, Jerry Gunn was sued by Vernon Minton for legal malpractice, and contends that Texas' state laws on malpractice should control.

In Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District [docket; cert petition, PDF], the court will consider when an agency can take land after denying a permit. The case will be analyzed under the essential nexus and rough proportionality tests of Nolan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard [opinions]. The tests determine the acceptability of permit requirements. In this case, the question is whether a government agency can deny a permit if the only requirement the resident does not meet is one that falls under that test. There is also a question of whether the tests apply when that agency requires the land-holder to use his/her own resources to convert personal property to public. The case is on appeal from the Florida Supreme Court [opinion].

In Arlington, Texas v. FCC [docket; cert petition, PDF], consolidated with Cable, Telecom. & Tech. v. FCC [docket], the court will consider if the Chevron doctrine [opinion] allows a federal agency to decide its own jurisdiction.

In Boyer v. Louisiana [docket; cert petition, PDF] the court will consider a Sixth Amendment [text] case directly on appeal from the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit [opinion]. At issue is if the state violates the "speedy trial clause" by not paying court-appointed counsel in a timely manner.

Finally, in McBurney v. Young [docket; cert petition, PDF] the court will consider, under the privileges and immunities clause [text] of Article IV, if a state can bar an out-of-state resident from accessing public records obtainable by a state resident. The court will also analyze this question under the dormant commerce clause. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held [opinion] that Virginia's Freedom of Information Act [text], which prevents non-state residents from accessing certain state records, does not violate the Constitution.

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