U.S. justices hostile to argument against Monsanto
Justice Department lawyer Melissa Sherry said a victory for Bowman would "eviscerate patent protections."
The case arose when, in 1999, Bowman sought to save money by buying commodity grain from a grain elevator.
The seed was not identified as featuring Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology, which protects seeds from herbicides. Bowman kept the seed generated from the successful crop and used it the following year. He repeated the pattern until 2007.
Monsanto objected, saying that Bowman was growing soybeans that were resistant to Roundup herbicide, meaning he was infringing on its patents.
The legal question was when Monsanto's patent protections were, in legal terminology, "exhausted."
Bowman said Monsanto's rights were exhausted because the seeds he bought from the elevator were already second-generation. The agreements farmers sign with Monsanto when they buy seeds allows them to sell commodity grain generated by the crop. This is normally used for feed rather than planting.
Once he purchased the seeds, Monsanto could not impose any limits on what could be done with the seeds, he said.
Monsanto argued that its rights were not exhausted because the agreements signed by the farmers also said that seeds could not be sold for planting.
A lower court found in favor of Monsanto and ordered Bowman to pay the company $84,456.