Monsanto suit

Monsanto ruling may affect seed cases

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

Some Mississippi farmers being sued for patent infringement by Monsanto believe a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this week to hear a similar case could invalidate the seed company’s claims against them.

A Monsanto official, however, said the company welcomes the court’s scrutiny of anther seed producer’s case, noting that lower federal courts have upheld that firm’s right to require farmers not to save and replant genetically engineered seed.

The nation’s highest court agreed this week to hear an appeal in the case of Pioneer Hi-Bred International’s patent infringement case against J.E.M. Ag Supply. Lower courts have upheld Pioneer’s right to require farmers using its genetically engineered products to agree not to save and reuse the seed.

At issue is whether farmers’ rights to save and replant seed from season to season is protected under the Plant Variety Protection Act and Plant Patent Act. Tupelo attorney Jim Waide, who represents some of the farmers being sued in Mississippi by Monsanto, argues that his clients are protected by the act and that a ruling again Pioneer by the Supreme Court would make Monsanto’s cases moot.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in the J.E.M. case may hold Monsanto’s patents invalid,” Waide said in a news release Wednesday. “If so, it would end these devastating lawsuits that Monsanto has filed against farmers across the country and expose Monsanto to court sanctions.”

But Lori Fisher, public affairs director for St. Louis-based Monsanto, said her firm stands by the law as it is currently interpreted by the courts.

“We welcome the review by the Supreme Court,” Fisher said Wednesday. “The J.E.M. case has been upheld in federal district court and circuit court for the United States. It is the law until the court rules.”

Waide contends that, even if the high court rules in favor of Pioneer, the question of whether patents historically reserved for technical innovations can be applied to plants. Local farmers recently signed a petition to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who chairs the agriculture subcommittee on the Senate Appropriations Committee, asking that the intent of the Plant Variety Protection Act be clarified.

A spokeswoman for Cochran said Wednesday the senator had responded to the petition and was looking into what could be done on a congressional level.