When science and commerce collide
A couple of stories at Wired Science shows:
First, the pesticide industry is fighting back against findings that bee colony collapse, which has the potential to be an environmental catastrophe, given the extent to which flowering plants depend on bees for reproduction. It’s not clear that the pesticide industry is able to maintain an open mind given the stark conflict of interest, but it is clear that they will go to any lengths to keep selling pesticides regardless of environmental harm—I would say “voluntary guidelines” (which never work) is out of the question here. The link is very much worth the click.
Second, the Supreme Court is taking up the crop-patent case brought by Monsanto, not a firm worthy of trust. Timothy Lee reports for Ars Technica:
Can a farmer commit patent infringement just by planting soybeans he bought on the open market? This week, the Supreme Court asked the Obama administration to weigh in on the question. The Court is pondering an appeals court decision saying that such planting can, in fact, infringe patents.
In 1994, the agricultural giant Monsanto obtained a patent covering a line of “Roundup Ready” crops that had been genetically modified to resist Monsanto’s Roundup pesticides. This genetic modification is hereditary, so future generations of seeds are also “Roundup Ready.” Farmers had only to save a portion of their crop for re-planting the next season, and they wouldn’t need to purchase new seed from Monsanto every year. The company didn’t want to be in the business of making a one-time sale, so when Monsanto sold “Roundup Ready” soybeans to farmers, it required them to sign a licensing agreement promising not to re-plant future generations of seeds.
However, farmers remain free to sell the soybeans they grow in the commodity market, where most are used to feed people or livestock. Roundup Ready soybeans have become extremely popular; they now account for 94 percent of all acres planted in Indiana, for instance. Vernon Bowman, an Indiana farmer, was a customer of Monsanto who realized that Roundup Ready soybeans had become so common in his area that if he simply purchased commodity soybeans from a local grain elevator, the overwhelming majority of those soybeans would be Roundup Ready. Commodity soybeans are significantly cheaper than Monsanto’s soybeans, and they came without the contractual restriction on re-planting.
So Bowman planted (and re-planted) commodity soybeans instead of using Monsanto’s seeds. When Monsanto discovered what Bowman was doing, it sued him for patent infringement.
Patent Protection or Freedom to Farm?
Bowman argued his use of the seeds is covered by patent law’s “exhaustion doctrine.” This doctrine, like copyright law’s first sale doctrine, holds that . . .