Supreme Court Upholds Monsanto’s Patent Rights
I blogged a few months ago about the Bowman v. Monsanto case heard by the Supreme Court this session. The case pit a Kentucky farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, against biotech giant Monsanto. At issue was the scope of Monsanto’s patent rights covering its Roundup Ready (glyphosate resistant) crops.
The Supreme Court this morning issued its decision in the case. In a rare unanimous decision, the Court upheld the decision of the lower court, holding that Bowman had violated Monsanto’s intellectual property rights by regrowing second-generation seed. The court rejected Bowman’s claim that Monsanto’s patent had been exhausted through the original sale. The patent exhaustion doctrine would normally permit the purchaser—or any subsequent owner—the right to use or resell a patented article. However, the Court ruled that Bowman’s actions fell outside the doctrine because he was not using or reselling but was instead copying the patented invention—Monsanto’s seed.
Delivering the unanimous opinion, Justice Kagan wrote,
[Bowman] is asking for an unprecedented exception—to what he concedes is the “well settled” rule that “the exhaustion doctrine does not extend to the right to ‘make’ a new product.”… But as already explained, we have always drawn the boundaries of the exhaustion doctrine to exclude that activity, so that the patentee retains an undiminished right to prohibit others from making the thing his patent protects…That is because, once again, if simple copying were a protected use, a patent would plummet in value after the first sale of the first item containing the invention. The undiluted patent monopoly, it might be said, would extend not for 20 years (as the Patent Act promises), but for only one transaction.
The Court ordered Bowman to pay Monsanto $84,000 in damages and court costs.