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Farmer's Fight With Monsanto Reaches The Supreme Court

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Farmer's Fight With Monsanto Reaches The Supreme Court

Vernon Hugh Bowman lives outside the small town of Sandborn, Ind.

Vernon Hugh Bowman lives outside the small town of Sandborn, Ind.

Dan Charles/NPR

This week, the Supreme Court will take up a classic David-and-Goliath case. On one side, there's a 75-year-old farmer in Indiana named Vernon Hugh Bowman; on the other, the agribusiness giant Monsanto.

The farmer is fighting the long reach of Monsanto's patents on seeds — but he's up against more than just Monsanto. The biotech and computer software industries are taking Monsanto's side.

Bowman also is battling a historic shift that's transformed the nation's seed business over the past 20 years.

Despite all that, Bowman seems remarkably cheerful about his situation. "Confrontation does not take a toll on me!" he says. "You and me can argue about the Bible; we can argue about religion. I'll pound my fist and we can argue all day, and I won't lose a bit of sleep at night!"

Bowman is leaning back in an easy chair, where he says he also sleeps at night. He lives alone in a modest white frame house outside the small town of Sandborn, in southwestern Indiana.

Out back, there's an array of old farm equipment collected during decades of growing corn and soybeans.

Bowman is wearing a Monsanto hat. It's probably an ironic gesture, but in fact, he's been a pleased and loyal customer of the company's seeds. He thinks the genes that Monsanto inserted into soybeans are just great. They let soybeans survive the country's most popular weedkiller: glyphosate, also known as Roundup. He can spray that one chemical to get rid of the weeds without harming his crop.

"It made things so much simpler and better. No question about that," he says.

Bowman uses these "Roundup Ready" soybeans for his main crop, which he plants in the spring, and he signs a standard agreement not to save any of his harvest and replant it the next year. Monsanto demands exclusive rights to supply that seed.

Bowman bought ordinary soybeans from this small grain elevator and used them for seed.

Bowman bought ordinary soybeans from this small grain elevator and used them for seed.

Dan Charles/NPR

But here's where Bowman got into trouble: He also likes to plant a second crop of soybeans, later in the year, in fields where he just harvested wheat.

Those late-season soybeans are risky. The yield is smaller. Bowman decided that for this crop, he didn't want to pay top dollar for Monsanto's seed. "What I wanted was a cheap source of seed," he says.

Starting in 1999, he bought some ordinary soybeans from a small grain elevator where local farmers drop off their harvest. "They made sure they didn't sell it as seed. Their ticket said, 'Outbound grain," says Bowman.

He knew that these beans probably had Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene in them, because that's mainly what farmers plant these days. But Bowman didn't think Monsanto controlled these soybeans anymore, and in any case, he was getting a motley collection of different varieties, hardly a threat to Monsanto's seed business. "I couldn't imagine that they'd give a rat's behind," he snorts.

Bowman told his neighbors what he was doing. It turned out that Monsanto did, in fact, care.

"He wanted to use our technology without paying for it," says David Snively, Monsanto's general counsel.

Monsanto took Bowman to court, and Bowman was ordered to pay Monsanto $84,000 for infringing the company's patent.

Bowman appealed. To the surprise of many, the highest court in the land agreed to hear his case. "I'm not a-gonna give in! Because I think I've done nothing wrong!" says Bowman.

His lawyers, who are representing him for free, have come up with a legal argument for why he did nothing wrong. If they succeed in persuading the court, it could pull the rug out from under Monsanto, and some other industries, too.

Bowman's lawyer, Mark Walters from the firm of Frommer Lawrence and Haug, says there's a very old principle in patent law: If you buy something that's covered by a patent — let's say it's a cell phone — you own it, outright. "You're allowed to put it on Craigslist and sell it, you're allowed to use it for your 'ordinary pursuits of life' is the quote from some of the old cases that we're relying on."

It's a valuable principle, Walters says. "Imagine how commerce would work if patents owners could come out of nowhere and surprise purchasers and tell them, 'Oh, you need to pay me a royalty, because I own a patent on this thing that you just bought.'"

So according to this principle of "patent exhaustion," Bowman bought that seed and can do with it what he wants. Patent holders have no right to stop him.

Monsanto's David Snively, for his part, says this argument completely misses the point. Yes, we can buy an iPhone and do whatever we want with it, "but we're not going to go out and make copies of the iPhone and put Apple out of business," he says.

That's what Bowman did, says Snively. When he planted this patented seed, he made copies of it.

In fact, he says, if farmers were allowed to do this with patented seeds, the patents would be worthless.

A number of industry organizations have come to Monsanto's defense, including the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Hans Sauer, deputy general counsel at BIO, says many biotech products are a lot like seeds. "They are easily replicated. They are difficult to make, but once created they are relatively easy to reproduce." The same is true of computer software.

Nels Kasey, co-owner of Great Heart Seed, with some of his company's soybean varieties.

Nels Kasey, co-owner of Great Heart Seed, with some of his company's soybean varieties.

Dan Charles/NPR

But these are new technologies. Farmers' seeds are old; they're the original self-replicating technology, and for centuries, nobody tried to claim them as intellectual property.

That's one reason why Monsanto's patents and lawsuits against farmers have stirred up so much anger and received so much attention.

What's less well known, however, is that the practice of patenting seeds has moved far beyond Monsanto and other biotech companies.

It's standard practice now even among small companies like Great Heart Seed, in Paris, Ill.

Great Heart Seed's warehouse is filled to the rafters with white bags of soybean seed. The company sells 45 different varieties in all. Some grow better in the south, others in the north. Most have Monsanto's Roundup resistance genes, while others do not.

Yet all of these varieties are patented. "Nearly everything out there has a patent on it now," says Nels Kasey, one of the Great Heart's owners.

Twenty years ago, that wasn't the case. Many seed dealers sold "public" varieties that came from breeders at universities like Iowa State or Purdue.

Today, most new varieties come from private companies, and even universities acquire patents on most of the varieties that they do release.

Farmers aren't supposed to save and replant those seeds, either.

Kasey says, the new system gives soybean breeders and seed companies more profits, and a stronger incentive to create and sell even better plant varieties. "I'm really proud of the varieties that we have today. When I started in this company, you had a handful of varieties. Today, there's more money in it, more profit in it, so I can support 45 lines," he says.

Those seeds, though, are also more expensive. Soybean seeds have tripled in price over the past 20 years. And a farmer like Bowman who just wants some cheap, generic seeds can't easily find them.

Bowman can see towering bins filled with soybeans all around southwestern Indiana, but according to the seed companies, he can't plant any of them.

In fact, after Monsanto took Bowman to court, his search for unrestricted seeds took him all the way to Ohio, one of the very few places in the country where the state still distributes non-patented soybean varieties.

Bowman acquired some of that seed — a variety called Dennison — and grew it last year. He saved part of his harvest. Those soybeans are now sitting in an old combine in a shed behind his house.

If the Supreme Court rules against him, Bowman can still use those beans for seed this year.

Neon Washable Paint

by on Feb. 18, 2013 at 3:27 PM
Replies (21-30):
mehamil1
by Platinum Member on Feb. 18, 2013 at 7:15 PM

I get that. But it happened. Monsanto clamped down on it. I hope they choke on it. I hope they lose and this sets a precedent. I would love nothing more than for that company to just disintegrate before they cause a global food shortage. 

Quoting talia-mom:

I am good with overhauling it.  However, he admits he planted seeds he thought were Monsanto, despite signing an agreement and understanding their rules.

Not like their rules isn't justification for breaking an agreement. 

Quoting mehamil1:

Or shows that Monsanto cannot do what it's doing to this farmer. Not standing up to them and what they are trying to do is what's dangerous. They need to be stopped. Dead stopped. The patent laws need to be overhauled. Also, too often throughout history, we have to break these laws in order to show they are unjust. 

Quoting talia-mom:

 None of this answers my question.

He should have a right to violate patent?

I don't think Monsanto is a good company.   But allowing people to violate their legally owned things sets a really dangerous precedent

Quoting Farmlady09:

No, the entity doing the violating is monsanto. The corp. has sued farmers who had certified organic farms because their gmo seeds got carried by birds, the wind, water, etc. and accidently contaminated (yes, contaminated) the organic farms. Because the seeds grew there, they sued the farmers who didn't plant them or want them, and monsanto has been winning EVERY lawsuit ... until one farmer in Canada stood up to them.

Monsanto has given the world ddt (among other things) ... and promised it was 'safe'. Roundup contaminates soil so that no non-gmo seeds will even sprout in it ~ and that crud gets into groundwater and eventually into all water, including the ocean. Their 'corn' actually contains a chemical in each kernel that causes cancer ~ feed the corn to rats and they die 50 - 70 % sooner (which means 9-12 months instead of 2+ years). They produce mutated offspring, grow tumors more than a quarter of their body size, etc. Google it ... there are 'sensational' type articles, and hard fact medical articles (with pics, you've been warned!) widely available. This is the corn used to make high fructose corn syrup ... and the stuff is in everything, including soup, meat (if you buy frozen seasoned chicken strips, it has hfcs in it), cereal (usually three varieties), snacks, etc.

Monsanto will continue to do this. This is a global entity with tendrils that attach it to many, many different corporations and products. The bas$%##$s actually continue to try and get patents and/or control over the world seed vault, or at least the vegetable portion of it.

People have a right to eat food that isn't altered, depleted of nutrients, that has no added chemicals or toxins, and to grow their own food, or buy seeds that don't have a 'monsanto' ownership tag on them. They have a right to eat food that is safe!

Farmers have a right to grow the crops they choose and NOT be sued because monsanto can't keep a leash on their gmo crap

Quoting talia-mom:

So he assumed he had Monsanto seeds and decided to violate their patent?

Veni.Vidi.Vici.
by on Feb. 18, 2013 at 7:15 PM
1 mom liked this

Oh look, Talia-mom is showing her jerk-face again.

SHOCKER!

Quoting talia-mom:

 Please don't lecture me like I don't know what is going on.

He is using seeds he doesn't have the right to use.

Now, the issue needs to be should companies be able to patent seeds.

I think they should.   You think they don't.

But disagreeing with you doesn't mean I don't know what is happening.

He violated the patent.  Whether or not that should be argued the way it is happens to be totally different.   But he isn't innocent here.  He knew what he was doing and wants everyone to support him violating the patent.


Quoting krysstizzle:

This is an issue of legality and morality (if you will) being completely at odds with one another. We're talking about one incredibly powerful and far reaching company owning a significant portion of the global food supply and wanting more. Countering that by any means is necessary (when I say "any", there are obviously things i'm excluding, like, say, violence).

The reach and power of this company is terrible. There's been a revolving door between the company and the highest levels of the federal government regularly since Reagan, at least.


Quoting talia-mom:

So he assumed he had Monsanto seeds and decided to violate their patent?




..MoonShine..
by Redwood Witch on Feb. 18, 2013 at 7:16 PM

Down down down with Monsanto! 

talia-mom
by Gold Member on Feb. 18, 2013 at 7:17 PM

 What is jerk face about pointing out he is knowingly violating a patent he signed an agreement for?

Should people just be able to ignore legally binding contracts because you think the company is bad?


Quoting Veni.Vidi.Vici.:

Oh look, Talia-mom is showing her jerk-face again.

SHOCKER!

Quoting talia-mom:

 Please don't lecture me like I don't know what is going on.

He is using seeds he doesn't have the right to use.

Now, the issue needs to be should companies be able to patent seeds.

I think they should.   You think they don't.

But disagreeing with you doesn't mean I don't know what is happening.

He violated the patent.  Whether or not that should be argued the way it is happens to be totally different.   But he isn't innocent here.  He knew what he was doing and wants everyone to support him violating the patent.

 

Quoting krysstizzle:

This is an issue of legality and morality (if you will) being completely at odds with one another. We're talking about one incredibly powerful and far reaching company owning a significant portion of the global food supply and wanting more. Countering that by any means is necessary (when I say "any", there are obviously things i'm excluding, like, say, violence).

The reach and power of this company is terrible. There's been a revolving door between the company and the highest levels of the federal government regularly since Reagan, at least.


Quoting talia-mom:

So he assumed he had Monsanto seeds and decided to violate their patent?

 

 



 

Veni.Vidi.Vici.
by on Feb. 18, 2013 at 7:19 PM

I'm gonna try to read this tonight:

http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/11-796-Bowman-v.-Monsanto-Petition.pdf

I want to side with Bowman but I don't know enough about patent laws, the seed industry or what pockets Monsanto has its hands in.

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Feb. 18, 2013 at 7:28 PM
1 mom liked this
I agree with you completely in this. In order for us to be able to stop buying this stuff we need to have it labelled. That is a battle we need to fight. Personally I grow as much as i can myself and buy organic when I can but I know not everyone can do that.

Quoting Farmlady09:

I absolutely realize the implications. I also know they (monsanto) has tried to get into the seed vault on several occasions as well.


As someone who lives sustainably, who is against factory farming (whether it is meat or produce), and who abhors the processed gunk that is labeled and sold as 'food', it's extremely important to me that I be able to continue saving my own seeds, raising my own meat animals, and that other people (including farmers) have that right. Food is a lot different than cell phones or other technology.


And, most of all I think that altering food at the genetic level automatically makes it 'not food'. It is no longer what our bodies evolved to live on. Anyone who does even a tiny bit of research sees that the current rates of heart disease, obesity, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, etc. ALL started climbing within 5 years of the start of factory farmed meat (animals fed corn and gunk and medications) and genetically modified foods, along with the introduction of high-fructose anything. The fact that so many people in the US are sick, getting sicker, and living on drugs is pathetic compared to the health of other countries that ban GMOs, where people eat the same produce they have for centuries, and where 'processed gunk' isn't on all the grocery shelves. It's blatant, but it's cheap and the companies make neat commercials so the kids all want it, tired working parents want 'instant' food after a long day ... argh. Yes, we agree on this. A lot more people really need to start caring. The easiest way to get rid of monsanto is for people to just stop buying ANY food that they produce. Regardless of the billions they have made, they won't be able to continue unless people keep funding them by purchasing their crud. The farmers need to stop buying their seed and pesticides, and the general public has to insist on organic and non gmo foods.




Quoting NWP:


Yes they are trying to control the global seed market. The implications of this is lost on many. We are basically giving one....single....corporation...control of the global food supply. When one digs into the connections Monsanto has within the government, including the SCOTUS it is truly freighting.


Farmlady, this is one issue where you and I stand united in our position.


Monsanto's Government Ties

"Agricultural biotechnology will find a supporter occupying the White House next year, regardless of which candidate win the election in November"
- Monsanto Inhouse Newsletter, 2000

A Monsanto official told the New York Times that the corporation should not have to take responsibility for the safety of its food products. "Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food," said Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications. "Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."

It would be nice to think the FDA can be trusted with these matters, but think again. Monsanto has succeeded in insuring that government regulatory agencies let Monsanto do as it wishes. Take a look:


















Prior to being the Supreme Court Judge who put GW Bush in office,Clarence Thomas was Monsanto's lawyer.

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (Anne Veneman) was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto's Calgene Corporation.
The Secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld) was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto's Searle pharmaceuticals.




The U.S. Secretary of Health, Tommy Thompson, received $50,000 in donations from Monsanto during his winning campaign for Wisconsin's governor.
The two congressmen receiving the most donations from Monsanto during the last election were Larry Combest (Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee) and Attorney General John Ashcroft. (Source: Dairy Education Board)






In order for the FDA to determine if Monsanto's growth hormones were safe or not, Monsanto was required to submit a scientific report on that topic. Margaret Miller, one of Monsanto's researchers put the report together. Shortly before the report submission, Miller left Monsanto and was hired by the FDA. Her first job for the FDA was to determine whether or not to approve the report she wrote for Monsanto. In short, Monsanto approved its own report. Assisting Miller was another former Monsanto researcher, Susan Sechen. Deciding whether or not rBGH-derived milk should be labeled fell under the jurisdiction of another FDA official, Michael Taylor, who previously worked as a lawyer for Monsanto.

 





 


Organic and Natural Product Companies
Associated with Monsanto




Brand Name(s): Arrowhead Mills, Bearitos, Breadshop, Celestial Seasonings, Earth's Best Baby Food, Garden of Eatin, Health Valley, Imagine Foods, Terra Chips, Westbrae, Millina's, Mountain Sun, Shari Ann's, Walnut Acres Owned By: Hain Food Group Principle Stockholders: Bank of America, Entergy Nuclear, ExxonMobil, H.J. Heinz, Lockheed Martin, Merck, Monsanto, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Walmart, Waste Mangement Inc. Significantly Owned By: Citigroup



Brand Name(s): Cascadian Farms, Muir Glen Owned By: Small Planet Foods Principle Stockholders: General Mills Significantly Owned By: Alcoa, Chevron, Disney, Dupont, ExxonMobil, General Electric, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nike, Pepsico, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Starbucks, Target, Texas Instruments



Article From: http://www.organicconsumers.org/monlink.html


Quoting Farmlady09:


Monsanto has been trying to patent heirloom seeds (gourds in particular, including pumpkins and melons) for several years now. So far that has been blocked. As a global entity, the idea of them 'patenting' anything that has already been growing for centuries at first seems ludicrous, but the reality if they succeed would be disastrous. For one thing, it would open to door to them attaining patents on every seed. For another, NO single entity should have that much control over an element so necessary for life.


Like others, I question the reasons for the SC taking this case ~ and I worry about their reasons.






 

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Presley77
by Member on Feb. 18, 2013 at 7:40 PM
1 mom liked this
Monsatan. Evil.
Posted on the NEW CafeMom Mobile
NWP
by guerrilla girl on Feb. 18, 2013 at 7:41 PM
1 mom liked this
Do you know anything about contemporary patent laws? This needs to be challenged and limits need to be placed on what can actually be patented. It is an absurd system. I hope the farmer wins. But I am not holding my breath.

Quoting talia-mom:

 None of this answers my question.


He should have a right to violate patent?


 


I don't think Monsanto is a good company.   But allowing people to violate their legally owned things sets a really dangerous precedent




Quoting Farmlady09:


No, the entity doing the violating is monsanto. The corp. has sued farmers who had certified organic farms because their gmo seeds got carried by birds, the wind, water, etc. and accidently contaminated (yes, contaminated) the organic farms. Because the seeds grew there, they sued the farmers who didn't plant them or want them, and monsanto has been winning EVERY lawsuit ... until one farmer in Canada stood up to them.


Monsanto has given the world ddt (among other things) ... and promised it was 'safe'. Roundup contaminates soil so that no non-gmo seeds will even sprout in it ~ and that crud gets into groundwater and eventually into all water, including the ocean. Their 'corn' actually contains a chemical in each kernel that causes cancer ~ feed the corn to rats and they die 50 - 70 % sooner (which means 9-12 months instead of 2+ years). They produce mutated offspring, grow tumors more than a quarter of their body size, etc. Google it ... there are 'sensational' type articles, and hard fact medical articles (with pics, you've been warned!) widely available. This is the corn used to make high fructose corn syrup ... and the stuff is in everything, including soup, meat (if you buy frozen seasoned chicken strips, it has hfcs in it), cereal (usually three varieties), snacks, etc.


Monsanto will continue to do this. This is a global entity with tendrils that attach it to many, many different corporations and products. The bas$%##$s actually continue to try and get patents and/or control over the world seed vault, or at least the vegetable portion of it.


People have a right to eat food that isn't altered, depleted of nutrients, that has no added chemicals or toxins, and to grow their own food, or buy seeds that don't have a 'monsanto' ownership tag on them. They have a right to eat food that is safe!


Farmers have a right to grow the crops they choose and NOT be sued because monsanto can't keep a leash on their gmo crap.


 


 


Quoting talia-mom:


So he assumed he had Monsanto seeds and decided to violate their patent?


 


 




 

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talia-mom
by Gold Member on Feb. 18, 2013 at 7:44 PM

 Goodness.   If I don't agree with you, I must know nothing about patent laws.

I think having seeds that are resistant to certaiin chemicals should be patented.

If he doesn't like that, use other seeds.

But yes, I can't know anything because I disagree with laws.


Quoting NWP:

Do you know anything about contemporary patent laws? This needs to be challenged and limits need to be placed on what can actually be patented. It is an absurd system. I hope the farmer wins. But I am not holding my breath.

Quoting talia-mom:

 None of this answers my question.


He should have a right to violate patent?


 


I don't think Monsanto is a good company.   But allowing people to violate their legally owned things sets a really dangerous precedent


 


Quoting Farmlady09:


No, the entity doing the violating is monsanto. The corp. has sued farmers who had certified organic farms because their gmo seeds got carried by birds, the wind, water, etc. and accidently contaminated (yes, contaminated) the organic farms. Because the seeds grew there, they sued the farmers who didn't plant them or want them, and monsanto has been winning EVERY lawsuit ... until one farmer in Canada stood up to them.


Monsanto has given the world ddt (among other things) ... and promised it was 'safe'. Roundup contaminates soil so that no non-gmo seeds will even sprout in it ~ and that crud gets into groundwater and eventually into all water, including the ocean. Their 'corn' actually contains a chemical in each kernel that causes cancer ~ feed the corn to rats and they die 50 - 70 % sooner (which means 9-12 months instead of 2+ years). They produce mutated offspring, grow tumors more than a quarter of their body size, etc. Google it ... there are 'sensational' type articles, and hard fact medical articles (with pics, you've been warned!) widely available. This is the corn used to make high fructose corn syrup ... and the stuff is in everything, including soup, meat (if you buy frozen seasoned chicken strips, it has hfcs in it), cereal (usually three varieties), snacks, etc.


Monsanto will continue to do this. This is a global entity with tendrils that attach it to many, many different corporations and products. The bas$%##$s actually continue to try and get patents and/or control over the world seed vault, or at least the vegetable portion of it.


People have a right to eat food that isn't altered, depleted of nutrients, that has no added chemicals or toxins, and to grow their own food, or buy seeds that don't have a 'monsanto' ownership tag on them. They have a right to eat food that is safe!


Farmers have a right to grow the crops they choose and NOT be sued because monsanto can't keep a leash on their gmo crap.


 


 


Quoting talia-mom:


So he assumed he had Monsanto seeds and decided to violate their patent?


 


 


 


 


 

krysstizzle
by on Feb. 18, 2013 at 8:00 PM
I wasn't lecturing, I was stating my point.

The root of the issue is the patent laws, specifically related to living genomes. And I absolutely and beyond a doubt think dna should not be patented. In this particular instance, if laws have to be broken to leash this company, I fully support that as well.

Monsanto has done nothing good, and calling them a vile, heinous company is certainly not hyperbole.


Quoting talia-mom:

 Please don't lecture me like I don't know what is going on.


He is using seeds he doesn't have the right to use.


Now, the issue needs to be should companies be able to patent seeds.


I think they should.   You think they don't.


But disagreeing with you doesn't mean I don't know what is happening.


He violated the patent.  Whether or not that should be argued the way it is happens to be totally different.   But he isn't innocent here.  He knew what he was doing and wants everyone to support him violating the patent.




Quoting krysstizzle:

This is an issue of legality and morality (if you will) being completely at odds with one another. We're talking about one incredibly powerful and far reaching company owning a significant portion of the global food supply and wanting more. Countering that by any means is necessary (when I say "any", there are obviously things i'm excluding, like, say, violence).

The reach and power of this company is terrible. There's been a revolving door between the company and the highest levels of the federal government regularly since Reagan, at least.



Quoting talia-mom:


So he assumed he had Monsanto seeds and decided to violate their patent?




 

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