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Monsanto wins patent exhaustion case at Supreme Court

In a short and unanimous opinion in Bowman v Monsanto, the US Supreme Court has upheld the Federal Circuit’s ruling that an Indiana farmer may not reproduce patented seeds without the patent holder’s permission

The dispute concerned Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically modified seed and is the latest case to address patent exhaustion in the United States.

Justice Kagan delivered the opinion, which was published on May 13. She said: “In the case at hand, Bowman planted Monsanto’s patented soybeans solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article. Patent exhaustion provides no haven for that conduct.”

But she also said that the holding was “limited”: “We recognize that such inventions are becoming ever more prevalent, complex, and diverse. In another case, the article’s self-replication might occur outside the purchaser’s control. Or it might be a necessary but incidental step in using the item for another purpose.”

The Court’s decision was expected following the oral hearing, and the submission of the US government.

Oral arguments were heard in February. Farmer Hugh Bowman was represented by Mark Walters of Frommer Lawrence & Haug, while Monsanto was represented by Seth Waxman of WilmerHale.

Amicus briefs were submitted by Knowledge Ecology International, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, the American Antitrust Institute, Public Patent Foundation, and the Center for Food Safety and Save Our Seeds.

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