Agriculture - Seed Patents
10:43 am
Thu March 29, 2012

Organic farmers file appeal in lawsuit against Monsanto

A coalition of organic farmers and grower organizations has filed an appeal in its lawsuit challenging Monsanto seed patents.

The group of 60 organic farmers, seed producers, and organic advocacy organizations originally filed suit against Monsanto on March 29, 2011. The suit seeks to prohibit Monsanto from taking organic farmers or distributors to court for patent infringement if their fields or seeds accidentally become contaminated with Monsanto's patented biotech seeds.

U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Buchwald dismissed the case last month, admonishing the plaintiffs' "transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists."

In her dismissal ruling, Buchwald acknowledges that "Like any other seeds, transgenic seeds may contaminate non-transgenic crops through a variety of means, including seed drift or scatter, crosspollination, and commingling via tainted equipment during harvest or post-harvest activities, processing, transportation, and storage."

But she goes on to say that unintentional seed use does not constitute patent infringement: "Even were there credible threats of suit from defendants, there is no evidence that plaintiffs are infringing defendants’ patents, nor have plaintiffs suggested when, if ever, such infringement will occur."

Monsanto filed 144 patent-infringement lawsuits against farmers from 1997 to April 2010, and won judgments against farmers it said used its genetically-modified seed without paying patent royalties.

Plaintiffs in the current suit are concerned that the biotech company could file similar suits against organic farmers for unintentional use of Monsanto's patented transgenic germplasm following accidental cross-contamination.

On its website, Monsanto says "It has never been, nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seed or traits are present in farmer's fields as a result of inadvertent means."

The case against Monsanto will now go to the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.