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A legal war has cropped up between dozens of American farmers and a bioengineering company over who owns the right to replant patented soybean seeds. In the last six years, St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. has filed nearly 100 lawsuits against farmers in 25 states, alleging that they replanted Monsanto’s patented “Roundup Ready” seeds saved from the prior year’s crop, in violation of a purchase agreement. Monsanto officials said that most of those suits have settled for an average of $88,500, with eight lawsuits remaining in Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama. Farmers’ advocates argue that Monsanto has unfairly used patent law to bully farmers into ending a centuries-old farming tradition of replanting saved-up seeds. That argument has been put to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on June 23 is expected to grant or deny certiorari to Mississippi soybean farmer Homan McFarling. In April, McFarling was ordered to pay $278,000 to Monsanto for replanting patented seeds. McFarling v. Monsanto, No. 04-31. “The process of replanting is a natural process. It can’t be patented. That’s fundamentally what we’re saying . . . .What God has made, Monsanto can’t patent,” said attorney Jim Waide of Waide & Associates in Tupelo, Miss., who is handling McFarling’s appeal to the high court. He is also handling two other seed piracy lawsuits. “As long as farmers have existed, they’ve been able to save their seed.” Technology benefits 400,000 But Monsanto officials argue that they have the right to protect a technology that benefits up to 400,000 farmers a year. Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” seeds are favored by many soybean farmers because they are resistant to weed killers. Monsanto officials contend that the patent on that technology extends to second-generation seeds because the technology is carried through. Furthermore, they argue, customers know they can’t replant the seeds because they sign an agreement stating they won’t do so as a condition of buying the product. “What Monsanto has done is they haven’t taken anything away from the farmer,” said Monsanto spokesman Scott Vaucum. “Monsanto has brought additional resources to the market. We developed some unique seed technologies, and with new benefits come new responsibilities. The vast majority of farmers have said, ‘I understand.’ But there are those who have said, ‘I want the new value and I don’t want to understand the new responsibilities.’ “ Gone too far? But farmers’ advocates argue that Monsanto has gone too far in weeding out patent violators. Attorney Joseph Mendelsen III, legal director for the Center for Food and Safety, a nonprofit group that has monitored the ongoing seed-piracy litigation, said that Monsanto is using patent law as a weapon against the American farmer. According to a January report issued by the center, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits-most of them since 2000-against 147 American farmers in 25 states. The report also showed that total recorded judgments granted to Monsanto for lawsuits amount to $15.2 million, the highest being $3 million; farmers have paid a mean of $412,000 for cases with recorded judgments; and the median settlement is $75,000. Mendelsen criticized Monsanto’s investigative tactics, which include hiring private investigators to spy on farmers and taking anonymous tips on a hotline. “Farmers used to be neighbors with one another. Now they’re asked to . . . rat out their neighbor if they think they’re replanting that seed,” Mendelsen said. Mendelsen accused Monsanto of intimidating and scaring farmers with expensive lawsuits, forcing them to settle rather than fight it out in court. But some are sticking it out. North Dakota farmer Loren David is accused of replanting Monsanto seed. His case is currently pending in a Missouri federal court, far from his home state, and home to Monsanto’s headquarters. Monsanto v. Loren David, No. 4:04 CV 00425 (E.D. Mo.). Asked why David has not settled, his attorney, Bruce E. Johnson said, “[h]e’s stubborn, and Loren says he doesn’t feel like he did anything wrong.” Johnson, of the Culter Law Firm in West Des Moines Iowa, added, “Loren says he knows what he planted and it wasn’t saved ‘Roundup Ready’ seed. Monsanto takes a different position. Monsanto’s Vaucum defended the company’s hotline, as well as hiring private eyes to investigate cases of alleged seed piracy, arguing that patent infringement is a tough crime to detect. “Unfortunately, when it comes to patent infringement, it’s left to the patent holder. It’s upon us to do our own enforcement,” Vaucum said. “This is very difficult for us as we would much rather have a conversation with a grower.”

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