Policy: Environment & Energy

Supreme Court refuses to hear farmers' appeal in patent case against Monsanto

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Supreme Court,Agriculture,Energy and Environment,Law,Genetically Modified Food,Monsanto

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by a group of farmers against agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto.

Last week, the nation’s high court denied the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association’s petition for writ of certiorari, according to an order list.

OSGATA, a Maine-based national nonprofit committed to protecting and promoting organic seed trade, had filed the lawsuit in case their fields were contaminated, accidentally, by the company’s genetically-modified seeds.

They argued that if their crops were contaminated, the St. Louis-based Monsanto could charge them with patent infringement.

The farmers contend the high court’s Jan. 13 decision is denying them their right to argue on behalf of gaining protection from patent litigation abuse by the company.

They argue it also dashes the hopes of plaintiffs who sought the opportunity to prove in court that Monsanto’s seed patents are invalid.

“While the Supreme Court’s decision to not give organic and other non-GMO farmers the right to seek preemptive protection from Monsanto’s patents at this time is disappointing, it should not be misinterpreted as meaning that Monsanto has the right to bring such suits,” said Daniel Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation and lead counsel to the plaintiffs.

“Indeed, in light of the Court of Appeals decision, Monsanto may not sue any contaminated farmer for patent infringement if the level of contamination is less than 1 percent.”

He continued, “For farmers contaminated by more than 1 percent, perhaps a day will come to address whether Monsanto’s patents may be asserted against them. We are confident that if the courts ever hear such a case, they will rule for the non-GMO farmers.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles all U.S. patent appeals, issued its ruling last June.

The court affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York’s previous decision that the plaintiffs did not present a sufficient controversy to warrant adjudication by the courts.

Since Monsanto made “binding assurances” that it would not sue American farmers whose fields were contaminated with trace amounts of patented material, the Federal Circuit agreed there was “no justiciable case or controversy.”

In their September petition to the Supreme Court, the farmers argued that they risk being contaminated in amounts much greater than 1 percent and “thus remain compelled to forgo full use of their land and adopt genetic testing of their seed supplies in order to avoid being accused of patent infringement.”

Jim Gerristen, a Maine organic farmer and president of the OSGATA, said of the high court’s decision last week:

“The Supreme Court failed to grasp the extreme predicament family farmers find themselves in,” he said. “The Court of Appeals agreed our case had merit. However, the safeguards they ordered are insufficient to protect our farms and our families.

“This high court, which gave corporations the ability to patent life forms in 1980, and under Citizens United in 2010 gave corporations the power to buy their way to election victories, has now in 2014 denied farmers the basic right of protecting themselves from the notorious patent bully Monsanto.”

Kyle McClain, Monsanto’s chief litigation counsel, said the company never has and has committed it never will sue if its patented seed or traits are found in a farmer’s field as a result of “inadvertent means.”

“The lower courts agreed there was no controversy between the parties and the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case brings closure on this matter,” he said Tuesday.

Content provided by Legal Newsline, which is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

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