The Trouble with Seeds - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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The Trouble with Seeds

The Trouble with Seeds

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a ruling from the Southern District of New York dismissing a claim by a collation of organic farmers against argo-giant Monsanto. The decision has left organic farmers and seed sellers to rely on the promises of the zealous corporate defender of genetically altered crops.

Farmers, seed sellers, and agricultural groups who avoided using Monsanto seeds, but feared being pulled into litigation if Monsanto seed traits appeared in their crops, formulated the case as a preemptive measure. Monsanto has had a long history of filing patent infringement claims against farmers who plant their genetically modified seeds without paying royalties, more than 800 lawsuits to date.

However, the Court determined the collation was not allowed to bring the lawsuit against the company because “Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not ‘take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes (because, for example, some transgenic seed or pollen blew onto the grower’s land).'” Based on these assurances, the three-judge panel determined the Plaintiffs failed to allege a justiciable case or controversy, dismissing for a lack of jurisdiction.

Members of the collation feared being sued for trace amounts of genetically modified crop varieties showing up in their own crops due to animals or wind. After todays decision, farmers will have to depend on Monsanto’s assurances.  In a statement of their website, Monsanto backed up their assurances by saying it “ has never been nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seeds or traits are present in farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means.” However, the question remains what will happen if more than ‘trace’ amounts are found; and with almost half of the “nation’s farmland sown with genetically modified crop varieties, it’s possible some growers have been contaminated by Monsanto’s technology”

The Public Patent Foundation said the decision was a partial victory, clearing the way for farmers to avoid having to implement costly measures to prevent crop “contamination”.  The Foundation points out that the decision also opens the door to farmers contaminated by Monsanto seeds to sue the company for the harm caused by the genetically altered product.

Others are claiming the decision makes no sense. “It is a very bizarre ruling that relies on a paragraph on a website. It is a very real threat to American farmers. This is definitely appealable,” said Andrew Kimbrell, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety, another plaintiff in the case.

Monsanto, who is facing lawsuits over crop contamination by an experimental wheat variety, is likely breathing a sigh of relief, the farmers not so much. Yet, in the midst of the continuing dispute over genetically modified foods v. local and organic products, the effects of this decision will be interesting to follow.

Nicole Marimon

Nicole Marimon is a third year Fordham law student and IPLJ Online Editor. Her interest in IP comes from her love of books, her journalism background, and too much time spent with her technology savvy roommate. In her spare time, she cooks and spends time helping her dog establish an online presence. #nenushka