This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled – unanimously – that Monsanto’s patent for soybeans was infringed by Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman. Even though expressly called out as limited to this case and potentially not applicable to other self-replicating technology, it bodes well for the patent community.
In this case, Monsanto holds a patent on a strain of soybeans engineered to resist RoundUp®, another Monsanto product. Farmers may purchase these soybeans, signing a contract agreeing not to reuse the soybeans or its byproducts. Therefore, each year farmers must buy seeds from Monsanto. Bowman sought an end-run around this arrangement by purchasing seeds from a grain elevator, reasoning it likely contained the patented soybeans. He planted the seeds, sprayed with RoundUp®, and replanting the resulting offspring, thereby selecting for the patented soybeans.