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Patent Foe Sues Monsanto on Modified Crops

The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), an opponent of patents with very expansive claims, has sued St. Louis, Missouri-based company Monsanto, makers of various genetically modified seeds. PUBPAT is a New York City-based nonprofit which has won victories in patent fights with Columbia University, Myriad Genetics, Pfizer, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which owns patents on stem cell technology.

From PUBPAT's press on the Monsanto suit:

NEW YORK - March 29, 2011 - On behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed suit today against Monsanto Company to challenge the chemical giant's patents on genetically modified seed. The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past.

Monsanto says the suit is "false, misleading and deceptive."

The modified seed in question is known as Roundup Ready in its various forms because it is genetically modified to be resistant to herbicide, making it easier to control weeds that grow near the crop.

PUBPAT continues:

"This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto's transgenic seed should land on their property," said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT's Executive Director and Lecturer of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. "It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients."

Monsanto says:

We've briefly read the allegations of the PUBPAT suit and press statement and find many of these allegations to be false, misleading and deceptive.

Here are the facts:

  • Monsanto has not ever sued and has publicly committed to not sue farmers over the inadvertent presence of biotechnology traits in their fields.

Biotechnology crops have provided a wealth of benefits to farmers and the environment. It is well established that farmers growing biotech crops realize many benefits including increased yields and lower production costs, and the use of these crops have resulted in an increase in the adoption of conservation tillage practices that reduce soil erosion. These benefits are the reason why farmers have overwhelmingly and willingly chosen to use these technologies year after year. These crops have been grown widely in the United States for the past 15 years, and have been planted on more than 2 billion acres by 15 million farmers throughout the world.

Plaintiffs allegations regarding patent validity are contrary to long established legal precedent which supports the validity of Monsanto's patents and others in the biotechnology field.

The plaintiffs' approach is a publicity stunt designed to confuse the facts about American agriculture. These efforts seek to reduce private and public investment in the development of new higher-yielding seed technologies. This attack comes at a time when the world needs every agricultural tool available to meet the needs of a growing population, expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. While we respect the views of organic farmers as it relates to the products they choose to grow, we don't believe that American agriculture faces an all-or-nothing approach. Rather we believe that farmers should have the ability to choose the best agricultural tools to farm their own land and serve their own end-market customers. We are confident that these multiple approaches can coexist side-by-side and sustainably meet the world's food needs over next 40 years.

We stand behind the American farmer, remain committed to investing in new tools to help American agriculture meet the needs of our growing world, and are prepared to vigorously defend ourselves.

It is unlikely that the plucky nonprofit will completely defang the ag giant, but given Ravicher's track record, it would be risky to bet against his group not winning a single concession in the case.