In a recent US Supreme Court Case, Bowman v Monsanto, the giant agribusiness Monsanto, sued an Indiana farmer for unlawful use of its patented soybean. Monsanto is the producer of the well known pesticide Roundup. It has also manufactured a genetically altered soybean known as Roundup Ready. The company has a patent on the new soybean granting it the exclusive right to produce Roundup Ready for 20 years. Monsanto sells its seeds to farmers, granting them a one year license to plant and harvest their seeds as produce and does not allow for the seeds from the harvest to be planted or sold.
Although Farmer Vernon Bowman’s license to plant Monsanto beans had expired, he continued to do so using beans he had purchased from neighboring farmers, very well knowing that the beans he purchased contained the patented genetics produced by Monsanto. Bowman’s intentions were to replicate the beans for market sale and thus his actions came into direct violation with Monsanto’s 20 year patent.
While Bowman argued Monsanto’s case void due to the exhaustion doctrine, also known as the first sale doctrine, the court ruled in favor of Monsanto. The exhaustion doctrine limits patent holder’s rights over products to the first legal sale of their patented product. This doctrine however, applies only to individual patented products. For example, if HP sells a computer to a purchaser and the purchaser then sells the same computer to a friend, the purchaser is protected under the exhaustion doctrine. Although, were the HP computer able to duplicate itself, the purchaser would not legally be able to sell the copies of the HP computer. Being that the soybean is replicated through nature it does not fall under the exhaustion doctrine. Thus, Bowman’s argument did not stand before the US Justices.
The court demonstrated its desire to protect intellectual property as a means of protecting incentive and thus keeping investment and technological improvements in progression. Bowman v Monsanto is 1 out of 11 cases Monsanto has won over Roundup Ready. Such cases demonstrate the value and level of seriousness the justice system applies to patented products.