Self-Replicating Technologies (Patents in the Field, Part 2)

In our earlier post - Patents in the Field (Part 1) - we reviewed the topic of patent exhaustion in a patent infringement case in which Monsanto sued a farmer who was collecting and replanting seed that contained Monsanto’s patented genetically-modified genes.

In Bowman v. Monsanto Company the US Supreme Court has decided to hear the appeal of the 2011 decision. In the earlier decision of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, Monsanto sued, claiming the second crop and the saved seeds infringed on its patent, because its patented technology existed somewhere in that crop. The farmer defended by claiming the defence of “patent exhaustion” - that any patent rights in the second crop of seeds were exhausted, and further use or sale of those seeds would not infringe Monsanto’s patent. The Federal Circuit appeals court rejected this defence, reasoning that by planting the commodity seeds containing the “Roundup Ready” patented technology, the farmer created an infringing article (i.e. the plant grown from the next generation of seeds). This replication of the patented article constituted an infringement, which was not excused by the “patent exhaustion” doctrine.

The US Supreme Court case of Bowman v. Monsanto will be closely watched and the final decision could be a milestone case in the area of self-replicating technologies and intellectual property in the agricultural industry.

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