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The Supreme Court To Rule On Monsanto Seed Patents 372

Posted by samzenpus
from the corn-of-the-people dept.
Fluffeh writes "Can a farmer commit patent infringement just by planting soybeans he bought on the open market? This week, the Supreme Court asked the Obama administration to weigh in on the question. The Court is pondering an appeals court decision saying that such planting can, in fact, infringe patents. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled, as it had on several previous occasions, that patent exhaustion did not cover second-generation seeds. The Supreme Court has now asked the Solicitor General, the official in charge of representing the Obama administration before the Court, to weigh in on the case."
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The Supreme Court To Rule On Monsanto Seed Patents

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  • by oxdas (2447598) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @01:09AM (#39581671)

    I hate to side with Monsanto here, but...

    If I built a machine that could replicate anything, then the first person that bought it could just use it to replicate the machine itself and my patent would be worthless. Instead, they could replicate anything but my machine (violating others patents no doubt) without violating my patent. This is not the same case as the farmer that finds stray Monsanto crops in his field and then has to pay Monsanto (which I think is ridiculous and evil).

  • by gizmonic (302697) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @01:23AM (#39581755) Homepage

    In a world where 94 percent of soybeans in circulation are descended from Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds, it might be hard for farmers who didn't want Monsanto's seeds even to buy seeds that were not patent encumbered.

    Doesn't that render it close enough to a monopoly for the government to be able to step in and regulate it?

    Natural evolution, bigger is usually better, but the bigger the spider, the more likely you are to see and squish it. Sometimes you get too big and it's all over for you.

    And if 94% doesn't cut it, let's just pollute that last 6% for them.

  • by Truekaiser (724672) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @01:24AM (#39581759)

    except that evolution has been making more plants resistant to round-up then Monsanto has made. do they own them even though those same genes were made by nature?
    what about the insects and other pests that become resistant? do they own them as well because so far they have ruled that the patent follows the gene no mater what.
    if a human developed resistance to roundup would they own the human too?

  • by ffflala (793437) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @01:31AM (#39581791)
    SCOTUS has taken the unusual step of asking the administration to provide them with an interpretation. This does not necessarily mean SCOTUS will hear the case; they can still reject the petition.

    To be more precise, this move indicates that the court has a strong interest in the case. It's still possible that they'll let the circuit decisions stand, if they basically agree with everything they can get their hands on.

    That said, I really hope they hear it, and separate patents from seeds. Fuck you for this case, Monsanto.
  • by oxdas (2447598) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @01:35AM (#39581805)

    I am not entirely certain if we are arguing against or past each other, but I will respond. This case is about if Monsanto seeds are eligible for patent exhaustion due to self-replication, not if they should be able to get away with patenting these things in the first place, nor if they can force anyone who accidentally grows them to pay royalties. The court is in a tricky situation concerning self-replicating patentable objects. I can see why they ruled the way they did (expressed in my example above). Given the recent ruling in Prometheus, I could see the Supreme court invalidating Monsanto's patents and would have no problem with that. That is not what this case is about though.

  • by kenshin33 (1694322) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @01:38AM (#39581841)

    If Monsanto has issues with this, then they need to genetically modify the seed (or plant that it gives birth to) so that it will only produce one generation.

    ever heard of Terminator seeds [wikipedia.org]?

  • by RazorSharp (1418697) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:27AM (#39582029)

    I'm sure there's some governing body for Native Americans - they should patent corn and sue Monsanto for all they're worth. It took them thousands of years to "invent" corn and Monsanto replicates and resells this invention without paying any compensation to the inventors.

    In all seriousness, corn is probably the most impressively modified plant next to bananas. In its original form it was pretty much just a grain (corn, in fact, is a generic term for grain that's been part of the English language before any English speaker laid eyes on maize).

    If any invention is going on here, it's the process by which the seeds are made. A process that's not too disimilar from the way the Native Americans made corn or how Mendal manipulated peas and flowers and whatnot. But what Monsanto is doing is closer to what Mendel did than the Natives. At least with maize its almost wholly different from the original plant. It's like the difference between a great dane and a chihuahua. I live in a rural area and I'm surrounded by things grown from Monsanto seeds. I recognize them as plants that have existed far before Monsanto. They would have to at least start producing something that struck me as a 'new' plant for me to even consider the possibility that it could be patentable, but then I'd still be wary since, as you said, no one builds seeds from scratch.

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @02:35AM (#39582067)

    Monsanto is so vigorous about defending its Roundup Ready seed patents because they are in a panic about what's happening in plant biology. Here's why.

    Once you reach a point that farm weeds are starting to show resistance to Roundup, the game's up for Roundup. Most crops are grown in areas where 95% of the land is under cultivation. So you have virtually all Monsanto's seed sown in large areas that are pretty uniform breeding grounds for weeds. For years, Roundup Ready was a big advantage, because there were just a few kinds of weeds that could survive Roundup spraying. But now we've reached a point where 94% of the farmland is under cultivation with Roundup Ready and it's getting sprayed every year at the weeds' peak vulnerability times with Roundup, putting massive selection pressure on the weeds.

    Once you reach a level where 1% of the weeds are resistant, and 94% of them get sprayed with something like 90% mortality, you get a next generation of weed seeds that's about 5% resistant. They year after that it's about 20% resistant. At this point farmers still see some value in Roundup. It still gives them an 80% reduction in weeds. But next year it's about 57% resistant. Now the farmer is frustrated. He sprays and sprays again and curses Monsanto. His crops are OK, but he's not doing as well as the guy down the road who doesn't spray at all but uses other methods for weed reduction.

    But Roundup has been his method for 15 years and he's reluctant to try something new.

    The next year, 87% of the weeds are resistant to Roundup. He sprays and only a handful of weeds die. He knows he sprayed at the right time. His neighbors are all bemoaning the same problem. "It ain't the Roundup. It's the weeds," one buddy says. "I got some on my grass and it was dead as fuckall the next morning. The weeds have adapted."

    Roundup sales plummet mid-year. The company rep calls the feed store. "Farmers ain't buying it no more.," the manager tells him. "They say it don't work no more." It makes headlines across the country.

    The next year, Roundup sales are zero, and there's no market for Roundup Ready seeds. Farmers are looking for other seeds that give the best yield on their soil type and moisture level.

    The only way Monsanto keeps a money stream on the Roundup product is selling it to city dwellers to kill dandelions and crabgrass. But by now it's adapting in the city as well.

    So they either introduce a new plant killer and have a giant campaign to get farmers on board -- farmers who feel screwed by paying for two years of overpriced seeds and worthless chemicals -- or they get out of the seed business.

    Unless they can enforce a patent right on every seed that has their gene in it no matter how many generations removed from their production. Because you can no longer find a pure source of seed uncontaminated by their gene. Too many farmers have grown it and it has cross-pollinated into everybody's crop.

    And it all sounds richly deserved, but then you realize that the same thing is happening with bacteria that attack our bodies. Only slower, because the breeding ground for those germs isn't under as heavy a pressure.

  • by Dutchmaan (442553) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @03:12AM (#39582195) Homepage
    What you are seeing there is the election promises of 2008 and the people's aspirations of actually fostering positive change. Ask anyone today if they feel the same as when that video was made and I think you'd hear a resounding "no". It wasn't the personality that was the cult, it was the idea/dream of finally having someone who might actually try to change things for the better. Most if not all of the people are probably quite disillusioned with the campaign Obama at this point, and have come to the realization that the Obama in office wasn't strong enough to make the change. I honestly believe in the beginning he was trying very hard to be bi-partisan, but he's just been worn down so much at this point that he's just part of the petulant system of two party politics.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday April 05, 2012 @08:51AM (#39583473) Homepage Journal

    You really have no idea what is going on in this country, do you? Monsanto gave thousands of American GIs cancer through negligence (contaminated Agent Orange) with absolutely zero repercussions. You don't get to do that kind of shit without being part of the power structure. "The Government", or the people actually running it, very much include Monsanto. Now the government is helping them take over land from farmers.

    Take a look at White House appointments and see how many come from Monsanto. It's really stepped up in the last decade. They're fucking IN there. This is the US government TAKING that kind of power.

  • by Sentrion (964745) on Thursday April 05, 2012 @11:25AM (#39585577)

    It's a shame that those of us who are returning to growing our own food, for a variety of reasons (economical, quality, nutritional, sustainable, etc.) face obstacles that were not in place a few decades ago. Even with a full acre of suburban property, a home owner might be allowed to have a horse for recreation, but city ordinances, HOAs, and deed restrictions often prohibit raising small flocks of fowl, goats, or a milking cow. Furthermore, many HOAs have punished home owners for hanging laundry on a clothes line, forcing them to buy an appliance they don't need and waste energy just to dry their clothes. Or the HOAs highly restrict what can be grown in a garden, often excluding anything edible. In the meantime, the most irrigated crop in the USA isn't soybeans or corn, its lawn grass.

    I am fortunate that I don't live in an HOA, but I am still restricted to only two hens in my (very large) back yard. I don't want to start a chicken farm, but a flock of one or two dozen chickens is commonly found in the back yards of most countries, even our own a few decades ago. In fact, raising backyard chickens was "patriotic" in WWII. If I ever wanted to slaughter one of my chickens for food, I could be arrested, as I am not allowed to slaughter my own livestock - I have to take it to a meat processor or drive out past the county line. Now, I certainly have sympathy for my neighbors, and I would agree that most people would be annoyed by the constant crowing of a rooster, so I can understand the need for some restraints, but if neighbors don't object why should there be so many restrictions?

    These are restrictions placed on a full-time engineer with enough money to get by without growing my own food. For me it's a matter of preference, and maybe somewhat of a hobby, but heaven forbid that one day I lose all of my money. There is no coherent system of support in the US to guarantee that I can be feed a proper meal each day unless I go to prison. While there are food stamps and many other programs, qualifying can take time and most people who receive food stamps cannot rely on the stamps alone to procure all the food they need to survive, and there is the ever-present threat of budget cuts. What food they can buy and afford is typically high in starch and fat, and low in protein and nutrients. This is just one reason why impoverished populations of the US tend to have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease. I'm willing to bet that many of this country's poor and homeless would rather have a small homestead that they could use for subsistence farming. While some US cities have experimented with community gardens, they pale with what I have seen in other countries, especially in Europe where allotment gardening is popular and originally began as "gardens for the poor". Here in the US, cities may at times build shelters or hand out food, but those in power are not going to let people live naturally and sustainably, as this would deprive their coffers of property tax, sales tax, and income tax. Today we are seeing such incredible cuts in services to the poor, and now more and more cities are literally criminalizing homelessness by passing laws against sleeping in public. If homeless pitch a tent or build a small shack from discarded pallets, the police will haul it off, even if it is well hidden from public view on unused or abandoned property. You aren't even allowed to "live off the land" in national forests or public land anymore. If you stay more than 14 days you get evicted. The wild areas are now only reserved for well-to-do sportsman looking to mount another trophy on their wall. Give a homeless man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and now he'll be prosecuted for fishing without a license. A license that a homeless person would find it difficult to afford. There are only two morally correct options for our society to proceed: either loosen the restrictions that keep people from providing for their own welfare, or institute a comprehensive nationwide support system

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