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Royalty payments for GM seeds upheld

March 21, 2013

, Royalty payments for GM seeds upheld

On 25 January, the US Supreme Court was urged by the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) – a public interest law and policy centre – to uphold the right of patent holders to require farmers to pay royalties for use of genetically modified (GM) seeds. Some growers are insisting that patent holders are entitled to collect a royalty on the first generation of seeds only, and thereafter growers should be entitled to use royalty-free seeds produced by these first-generation plants.

On 25 January, the US Supreme Court was urged by the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) – a public interest law and policy centre – to uphold the right of patent holders to require farmers to pay royalties for use of genetically modified (GM) seeds. Some growers are insisting that patent holders are entitled to collect a royalty on the first generation of seeds only, and thereafter growers should be entitled to use royalty-free seeds produced by these first-generation plants.
In a brief filed in Bowman v Monsanto Co, WLF argued that the doctrine of “patent exhaustion” does not limit the right of seed producers to prevent multi-generational use of their patented seeds. WLF asserted that patent law grants purchasers of a patented item a virtually unlimited right to ‘use’ the item, but that it does not give them the right to construct a new article on the template of the original.
WLF chief counsel, Richard Samp, argued that if royalties were not paid, it would “throw into question the nation’s ability to sustain its tremendous advances in seed technology.”
He said: “Companies have spent many millions of dollars developing genetically engineered seeds that are resistant to weed-killing herbicides and that increase yields. No one will be willing to continue those huge research and development outlays if their patent rights cannot extend beyond one generation of plants.”
The case involves soyabean seeds developed by Monsanto, which have been genetically engineered to tolerate Monsanto’s widely-used agricultural herbicide, Roundup. The seeds are prized by farmers as they allow them to use herbicides without jeopardising their crops.
Monsanto charges a premium for its patented seeds, and farmers who buy the seeds must agree not to use the seeds for more than a single generation.
If they were permitted to do so, they would not need to buy any more seeds from Monsanto because all such second-generation seeds carry the same Roundup-tolerant genetic trait.


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