APRIL 12, 2012
Should a corporation be able to patent life and then legally restrict farmers from methods that have been used for 10,000 years?
APRIL 12, 2012
Monsanto has made its patented genes the centerpiece of its business model, but there are plenty of people who think the very idea is appalling. Now, the Supreme Court may take up the question.
The case (Monsanto v Bowman) involves an Indiana farmer, Vernon Bowman, who bought bulk soybeans and planted them as seeds – something farmers had been doing for generations, until Monsanto came along.
In order to maximize corporate profits, Monsanto’s contracts don’t allow farmers to save some of their crop and replant the seeds: If you want to take advantage of Monsanto’s designer genes, you have to buy them fresh each and every season.
Monsanto sued Bowman for patent infrigement (something that the company also insisted it DOESN’T do, as recently as this past February, when farmers attempted to get a preemptive court injunction against just this kind of suit).
Here’s where the fun starts.
Patents for normal stuff come with what is called “exhaustion.” That is, if you buy a car or a refrigerator with patented components, the rights of the patent holder are exhausted in that first sale. You can safely resell your car without running afoul of patent law. You can resell your used books, video tapes, washing machines – anything up to nuclear reactors – and not run afoul of patent law.