How complicated can a court case become? In an unusual request, the Solicitor General of the U.S. government has requested time to provide arguments that could end up supporting both sides of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, or at least that is what appears to be happening.
The case is Bowman v. Monsanto where the farmer contends Monsanto didn’t have the right to limit him from planting soybean seed harvested after planting Monsanto’s genetically modified seed the previous year. Monsanto contends its patent on soybean seeds makes it unlawful to plant harvested or “saved” seed without its approval.
Bowman appealed a federal circuit court decision against him, and the testimony before the Supreme Court is to proceed shortly. Typically in a case like this, before the highest court in the land, each side is given 30 minutes to argue their point. But here comes Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr., who is requesting 10 minutes to present a government point of view.
The government “mostly” agrees with Monsanto’s position, according to a report on http://www.patentdocs.org/. The ruling by the lower court was praised by the government at the time.
Bowman’s legal team has refused to give the government five minutes of its 30-minute argue time; therefore, the government is trying to get 10 minutes of Monsanto’s time by petitioning the court. The option of five minutes from each side or extending the time before the court by 10 minutes are other options that have been weighed and could come into play depending on the Supreme Court’s opinions.
The government seems to think two previously decided court cases are somewhat inconsistent with each other and the court should have the opportunity to question the government directly on the issues.
A great many amicus briefs have been filed in support of affirmation of the lower court decision that favored Monsanto based mainly on two aspects of the case—the contractual limitations of the Technology Agreement and their violation by Bowman, plus the importance of patenting for agricultural innovation.
From what has been pulled from the court case information, Monsanto contends that Bowman harvested grain/soybean seed, delivered the soybeans and then purchased the same or similar soybeans back from the elevator to sidestep the Technology Agreement. In some regions of the country, Roundup Ready trait soybeans have been almost 100 percent of the soybeans delivered to elevators, which was the case in Bowman’s area.
Bowman contends the company’s patent should only apply to the first-generation of soybeans and patent rights are exhausted with the second generation soybeans.
The ag industry, especially seed companies, are fearful that a ruling in favor of Bowman “would apply to any and all innovators, fundamentally altering the existing business model for agricultural biotechnology—substantially curtailing return on investment with profound adverse consequences for global development,” according to patentdocs.org.