Iowa Public Television


Monsanto Prevails in Supreme Court Ruling

posted on May 16, 2013

Despite lackluster economic reports, a slower inflation rate served to push investors into action.

Consumers opened their pocket books in April moving retail sales numbers up by .1 percent. The rise calmed those concerned that federal tax increases and spending cuts might slow economic growth.  When the automobile sector is taken out of the equation retail sales were off .1 percent.

The Consumer Price Index – a measure of consumer goods and services -- fell .4 percent this week hitting a four year low.  When the cost of fuel is excluded – the so-called Core CPI -- rose a scant 1.1 percent – the lowest in 2 years. This is below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent cap allowing the independent body to continue its efforts to pump up the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average took the week to digest the news and hit all-time highs closing above 15,350 on Friday.

Part of the make-up of the trillions invested in the economy are billions put into research and development of genetically engineered crops. What began more than a decade-and-a-half ago as a curiosity has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar industry that comprises almost all of the commodity seeds sold in the United States. The sales of the new seeds came with technical agreements prohibiting the saving and use of any offspring.  But there are always a few willing to push the envelope. And one Indiana man, who believed the agreement had a limited scope, found himself in legal trouble.  This week, the highest court in the land rendered its decision.

Monsanto Prevails in Supreme Court Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings this week which favored Monsanto and protection of its patented Roundup Ready seeds.  For several years the agri-business giant has disputed the actions of an Indiana soybean farmer.   Vernon Hugh Bowman was a regular customer of the St. Louis, Missouri-based company, whose policy prohibits saving or reusing seeds once the original crops have grown. 

Under the contract, new Roundup Ready seeds must be purchased for each growing season.  Once harvested and sold, the commodity seeds are intended for human or animal consumption.  But for several years, Bowman took a late-season gamble and replanted a second crop using leftover seeds he bought from a local grain elevator. 

VERNON HUGH BOWMAN, Defendant – Bowman v Monsanto: “So I just looked at it that when they dumped it in there that they had abandoned their patent. If they want to protect their patent, then it looks to me like it would be required -- they'd be required to have to separate it at the elevator and keep it separate.”

 In a statement, Monsanto’s top lawyer responded to the verdict: “The Court’s ruling today ensures that longstanding principles of patent law apply to breakthrough 21st century technologies that are central to meeting the growing demands of our planet and its people.”

The unanimous decree was also noted for its scope, which is limited to the case of Bowman versus Monsanto only.   Court observers are quick to point out that no sweeping decisions were made about the intersection of intellectual rights and scientific modification.  Parallels have been drawn between aspects of this case and upcoming deliberations on the high court’s docket, which deal with genetic patents, regenerative medicine and computer software.

Tags: grain elevator Indiana farmer Monsanto patent exhaustion patent law planting Roundup Ready seeds soybean soybean planting Supreme Court Vernon Hugh Bowman