Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from representatives on behalf Monsanto Co. and Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman, to determine whether Mr. Bowman had violated the company’s patents on soybean seeds that are resistant to the weed-killer glyphosate (RoundUp). This case goes to the core of the ability of U.S. companies to invest in the research necessary to develop new products with an assurance that U.S. patent law will protect their investment. “Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?” Chief Justice John G. Roberts asked during oral arguments before the court.
Experts and observers have noted that the impact of the Court’s ruling will extend beyond the agricultural biotechnology sector:
The justices appeared alert to the consequences of their eventual ruling not only for Monsanto’s very lucrative soybean patents but also for modern agriculture generally and for areas as varied as vaccines, cell lines and software.
The New York Times, Feb. 19, 2013
“The case revolves around what appears to be a deliberate attempt by one farmer to circumvent the law. Bowman v Monsanto is the long-anticipated square off between a 75-year old Indiana farmer and the world’s largest agricultural biotechnology firm. The decision will turn on the minutiae of patent law, but the implications will extend to all cutting-edge technologies.”
Jon Entine, Executive Director, Genetic Literacy Project
“…Innovators, whether they are in a scientific laboratory or a recording studio, must count on being able to recoup their risky investments without the threat of illegal copies. Whether those copies are crops on a farm in the Midwest or hot DVDs on the sidewalks of New York City, the principle is the same, and so are the consequences: When one free rider skims off the top, everyone else ends up paying more, and innovators get less to invest in the next round of innovation. Neither of these outcomes is what America needs.”
Robert Atkinson, President, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation