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Supreme Court rules for Monsanto in seed patent dispute

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled unanimously Monday in Bowman v. Monsanto [SCOTUSblog backgrounder; JURIST report] that a farmer who buys patented seeds may not reproduce them through planting and harvesting without the patent holder's permission. Monsanto [corporate website; JURIST news archive] holds a patent [text] on genetically-modified seeds that utilize Roundup Ready [product website] technology. The seeds are altered to "self replicate," which means that when 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. In an opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, the court sided with Monsanto: "Under the doctrine of patent exhaustion, the authorized sale of a patented article gives the purchaser, or any subsequent owner, a right to use or resell that article. Such a sale, however, does not allow the purchaser to make new copies of the patented invention." The court noted that their holding was limited to the case before them, "rather than every one involving a self-replicating product."

Monday's ruling upholds a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The appeals court ruled for Monsanto [opinion] in 2011, 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."

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