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6 Sep, 2013 04:00

US farmers challenging Monsanto patent claims appeal to Supreme Court

US farmers challenging Monsanto patent claims appeal to Supreme Court

Public advocacy groups and farmers have joined forces to challenge biotech giant Monsanto’s claims on genetically engineered seed patents, and to halt the company’s aggressive lawsuits against anyone whose fields are contaminated by their GMOs.

Seventy-three US farmers, seed companies, and public advocacy groups appealed their case against Monsanto Co. to the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The case seeks to challenge Monsanto’s aggressive claims on patents of genetically-engineered  seeds and aims to bar the chemical and biotech company from suing anyone whose field is contaminated by such seeds.

Monsanto has in the past sued over 100 farmers for patent infringement and won cases against farmers who were found to have used seeds without paying the company royalties.

In June, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a previous ruling which states that the group of organic and otherwise non-GMO farmers and other plaintiffs do not have standing to prohibit Monsanto from suing them should the company’s genetic traits end up on their holdings "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).'"

But the company’s assurances did not assuage the plaintiffs’ fear of future alleged patent infringement.

"While the Court of Appeals correctly found that the farmers and seed sellers had standing to challenge Monsanto's invalid patents, it incorrectly found that statements made by Monsanto's lawyers during the lawsuit mooted the case," said Daniel Ravicher, Executive Director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and lead counsel to the plaintiffs in the case, OSGATA et al v. Monsanto. "As a result, we have asked the Supreme Court to take the case and reinstate the right of the plaintiffs to seek full protection from Monsanto's invalid transgenic seed patents."

Ravicher says the company’s patents on genetically-modified seeds don’t meet the “usefulness” requirement of patent law. The plaintiffs’ filing cites evidence proving that the genetically-engineered seeds have negative economic and health effects, while the supposed benefits for food production and avoiding toxic pesticides are weak.

“As the leading arbiters of justice in the US, it behooves the Supreme Court to hear this important case to protect America’s farmers from abusive patent infringement lawsuits and invalidate Monsanto’s flawed patents as their products have been shown to be damaging to human health and the environment and failed to live up to the marketing hype,” Dave Murphy, a plaintiff in the case and founder of the advocacy group Food Democracy Now, said in a statement.

Monsanto issued a statement Thursday saying the plaintiffs were looking for controversy where it doesn’t exist.

"The District Court ruled and Court of Appeals affirmed that there was no controversy between the parties," the company said in the statement. "There is neither a history of behavior nor a reasonable likelihood that Monsanto will pursue patent infringement against farmers who have no interest in using the company's patented seed products."