On May 13, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Bowman v. Monsanto Co. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto Co. and held: “Patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission.” The Supreme Court slip opinion summarized the parties arguments as follows:
“Respondent Monsanto invented and patented Roundup Ready soybean seeds, which contain a genetic alteration that allows them to survive exposure to the herbicide glyphosate. It sells the seeds subject to a licensing agreement that permits farmers to plant the purchased seed in one, and only one, growing season. Growers may consume or sell the resulting crops, but may not save any of the harvested soybeans for replanting. Petitioner Bowman purchased Roundup Ready soybean seed for his first crop of each growing season from a company associated with Monsanto and followed the terms of the licensing agreement. But to reduce costs for his riskier late-season planting, Bowman purchased soybeans intended for consumption from a grain elevator; planted them; treated the plants with glyphosate, killing all plants without the Roundup Ready trait; harvested the resulting soybeans that contained that trait; and saved some of these harvested seeds to use in his late-season planting the next season. After discovering this practice, Monsanto sued Bowman for patent infringement. Bowman raised the defense of patent exhaustion, which gives the purchaser of a patented article, or any subsequent owner, the right to use or resell that article. The District Court rejected Bowman’s defense and the Federal Circuit affirmed. “
The Supreme Court held that under the patent exhaustion doctrine, when purchasing a patented item, the purchaser can dispose of the item however he or she sees fit. The original distributor’s patent right exhausted when it sold the item. However, the distributor is permitted to restrict the purchaser from duplicating the patented item. The court reasoned that by planting and harvesting new seeds with the Monsanto trait, Bowman was in fact duplicating the patented item.
For more information see the slip opinion, here: Bowman v. Monsanto