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3 March 2013 - Who’s Right - Who’s Wrong?

I wonder if any member of the Supreme Court ever thought they would be discussing soybean technology in the Court, and I’m willing to bet that during Senate confirmation hearings, no Supreme Court Justice candidate was ever asked by a Senator how they felt about soybean technology.

Last month it happened! Soybean technology was discussed in the Supreme Court because of a case that started several years ago. Monsanto sued Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman who planted soybean seeds that he bought from a grain elevator in the years 1999 through 2007 and Monsanto said that violated their seed patents. In 2011 a Federal Appeals Court agreed. They found that Bowman had violated the patent and ordered him to pay Monsanto $84,000 in damages.

Well, no surprise, Mr. Bowman didn’t like that idea so he and his attorney decided to appeal to a higher court and lo & behold, they made it all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Justices agreed to hear the case. Now, the Court will decide who pays whom and how much.

There were some interesting quotes from that hearing day in the Supreme Court...

Chief Justice John Roberts asked this question . . . “Why in the world would anyone spend the money to improve the seed, if as soon as they sold the first one, anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?” Federal attorney Melissa Sherry, who sided with Monsanto, said and I quote . . . “It would be near impossible to recover your investment in the first sale, so the more likely consequence is that research dollars would be put elsewhere.”

Then, Mark Walters, the attorney for Vernon Bowman said . . . “So what they are essentially asking for is for the farmers to bear all the risk of farming, yet they can sit back and control how the property is used.”

This is a highly charged, emotional issue in farm country; it has been ever since the first lawsuit was filed. It is a difficult one to deal with and I don’t know who is right; I know that Monsanto has spent years and billions of dollars on research, but I also know that many producers feel the sharply higher prices they pay for the technology should give them control of the seed and the product. So, like you I’ll wait for the Supreme Court decision in a few months. I would be interested in your thoughts and if you want to share them with me, simply e-mail me at orion@agbizweek.com. I’d like to hear from you!

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.