Elderly farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman planted the seed of infringement when he grew Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans without paying for them, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Monday.
Bowman purchased the seeds from a grain elevator, and argued that because they came from the crops of farmers who had already purchased Monsanto’s seeds, the patent exhaustion doctrine applied and Monsanto no longer controlled them. Plus, he said, “I couldn’t imagine that they’d give a rat’s behind,” NPR reports.
Monsanto gave a lot of rats’ behinds though. It gave them all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the Federal Circuit’s decision that Bowman must pay $84,000 to the agricultural company.
“In the case at hand, Bowman planted Monsanto’s patented soybeans solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the high court’s decision. “Patent exhaustion provides no haven for that conduct.”
Jonathan Kagan, a partner at Irell & Manella who focuses on patent litigation calls the decision “a straightforward application of patent exhaustion to a new technology—self-replicating products.”
“Because of this doctrine, Monsanto is careful to only sell its seed to farmers who agree not to do exactly what Farmer Bowman was doing here—using harvest seed for later planting,” Kagan says. “By buying through a grain elevator, Farmer Bowman was trying to find a way around these restrictions. It was a clever strategy, but not a legally sound one.”
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