Monsanto files brief in Bowman v. Monsanto

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Monsanto filed its brief last week with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Bowman v. Monsanto. The brief highlights the crucial role that patent protection plays in fostering and protecting U.S. innovation, both in agricultural biotechnology and across a broad range of industries that deliver benefits to millions of Americans. Affirming Monsanto’s ability to enforce its patent rights in the case is critical to promoting continued research in biotechnology and other key fields, as companies, universities, and research institutions rely on patent law to recoup their R&D costs and protect against unauthorized copying of their inventions.

The case concerns the infringement of Monsanto’s patents associated with genetically engineered soybeans, which contain patented biotechnology that enables the plants to tolerate a widely-used herbicide. The soybeans are popular with growers nationwide, because Monsanto’s technology enables growers to apply the herbicide after their crops have been planted, mitigating the yield-robbing weeds in their field without harming the soybean plants. The petitioner in this case (Bowman) obtained soybeans containing the technology from a local grain elevator and, over nine years, reproduced them in violation of the patents.

“The U.S. patent system has played a pivotal role in incenting innovation and spurring the advancement of many of our nation’s vital industries,” said David Snively, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Monsanto. “In this case, this system has supported the discovery and expansion of a novel science that has revolutionized agriculture, enabling growers to produce more food while they also conserve more natural resources.”

“What’s at stake is some of the most innovative research on the planet – not only in agriculture, but in industries from medicine to environmental science that rely on patent systems to make R&D investments economically viable,” Snively added. “If companies and universities can’t count on their inventions being protected, few will continue to invest the amounts needed to create a new seed, a new medicine, or another new technology.”

The United States filed a “friend of the court” (amicus curiae) brief in support of Monsanto’s position. The government explained that Bowman clearly violated Monsanto’s patent rights when he made unauthorized copies of Monsanto’s technology, and underscored that permitting this type of conduct to occur would jeopardize the incentive to invest in future innovations. The U.S. government’s brief further noted that “the potential consequences…are not limited to genetically modified crops. The Court’s decision could also affect the enforcement of patents for man-made cell lines, DNA molecules, some nanotechnologies and other technologies that involve self-replicating features.”

In this case, the Supreme Court must determine how to apply a patent doctrine (known as “patent exhaustion”) that originated in the 19th century to 21st-century innovations like drought- and insect- resistant crops. These biotechnologies require hundreds of millions of dollars to develop but can be readily replicated millions of times because they consist of genetic or other easily copied material. Both lower courts that heard the case agreed with Monsanto’s position and ruled that well-settled patent law prevents the unauthorized copying of this type of invention.

“Courts have repeatedly ruled that patent law protects agricultural biotechnology, just as it protects innovations in computers, medicine, and other technologies,” Snively said. “Without such protections, anyone could create a virtually limitless supply of patented technology, eviscerating the incentive to continue the R&D investments that will bring about the breakthroughs of tomorrow.”

It is expected that a wide array of universities, technology-related industries and scholars will side with protecting innovation via a continued clear legal framework as expressed consistently by the courts, Congress and the United States Patent Office.
Interested parties can access more information about the case, its history, Monsanto’s brief, and the U.S. government’s brief online at:
Download the full Brief for Respondents.

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