Imagine a licensing agreement for buying seeds that allows them to be used only once a season. They cannot be resold for planting, and cannot be used for research, crop breeding or seed production.
Those indeed are the terms of seed giant Monsanto’s licensing agreement for its “Roundup Ready” soybeans, regardless of how unnatural the conditions may seem when it comes to farming. This is farming in the age of patented, genetically modified organisms, which in this case concerns soybean crops that withstand herbicide.
The Supreme Court is weighing in on the soybean patents, agreeing to hear an appeal by a Knox County, Indiana soybean farmer who was ordered to pay $84,456 in damages and costs to Monsanto in 2009 for infringing those patents.
Farmer Vernon Bowman’s dirty deed? The 74-year-old bought soybean seed from a local grain elevator that was contaminated with the patented seed, which he used to produce beans on his 299 acres.
The case addresses the question of how far down the stream of commerce — in this instance the farming cycle — can a company control its patents, especially for products like soybeans that easily self-replicate. A lower court, an appeals court and even the Obama administration maintain the stream is virtually endless.