Monsanto demands that anyone who plants a seed containing the its patented herbicide-resisting genes pay steep “technology fees.” The problem is that Monsanto’s plants amount to self-replicating patent machines, as the Monsanto-created genes spread through the ecosystem. NPR reports:
This farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, has been a loyal customer for Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” soybeans. Sometimes he bought ordinary soybeans from the local grain elevator or another farmer.
But here’s the problem: Monsanto’s soybeans account for 94 percent of all the soybeans grown in Indiana. So almost all the soybeans that Bowman could get his hands on contained the patented “Roundup Ready” gene. Monsanto found out and took Bowman to court [where he was ordered] to pay $84,000. An appeals court affirmed that decision.
The arguments and counter-arguments that both sides have submitted to the Supreme Court mostly focus on the reach of Monsanto’s patents — specifically, whether Monsanto really can demand a royalty for the planting of any soybean containing its patented genes. But there’s a practical issue, too, and it clearly troubled the federal judge in Indiana who first heard this case. “Monsanto’s domination of the soybean seed market,” he wrote, means that all the cheap “commodity” soybeans that farmers might use for seed are now encumbered by patents.