A Farmer's Crusade Against Monsanto Could Determine The Future Of Patents

farmers, poverty,, 1940s

The U.S. Supreme Court heard a huge fight over seed patents Tuesday that pits an Indiana farmer against agribusiness giant Monsanto.That farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, bought and planted a single set of patented Monsanto soybean seeds and got in hot water after he used those seeds to create new ones.

Bowman was ordered by a federal judge to pay $84,000 for patent infringement, and an appeals court upheld that decision, The New York Times’ Adam Liptak reported.

The lone farmer took his case to the nation’s highest court, where he argued that he had a right to replicate the seeds, according to Liptak.

At issue is whether patent rights extend to seeds and other entities that can “replicate themselves beyond the first generation,” Liptak reported.

During the arguments, it was clear that the justices knew the seed-patent case could impact other industries, the National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle told PBS.

“It was clear in the arguments that – in the justices’ comments that they knew they were dealing with a new technology here,” she said.

Industry group The Software Alliance seems to get the possibly huge implications of the case, as well. It filed an amicus brief with the high court in support of Monsanto. Here’s the crux of the software industry’s argument, from that brief:

Computer software, whose use involves the creation of temporary additional copies of the software program, could be characterised as self-replicating, although software programs obviously differ in critical ways from agricultural seeds. A legal rule eliminating patent protection for ‘self-replicating’ seeds that had the same result with respect to temporary copies of software programs would faciliate software piracy on a broad scale.

Bowman’s case is not the only one that could affect software patents. This term the Supreme Court will also hear a case over whether companies can patent isolated genes.

Patent attorney Justin McCarthy has argued the gene patent case could affect software patents. He pointed out that software patents, like the gene patents at issue, also rely on analysing and comparing data.

Since the tech industry relies so heavily on intellectual property, it seems any patent case involving new technology could help shape that industry’s future.

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