Biotechnology Patent Exhaustion: Unearthing the Roots of the Monsanto Seed Cases

Lecture by Prof. Jeremy de Beer
June 13, 2013 | 12:30 – 2:00
Int’l Student Lounge | Lunch Provided
AU Washington College of Law 

Vernon Bowman, the 76-year old soybean farmer from southern Indiana, didn’t dream that his case could ever reach the United States Supreme Court. But in the spring of 2013, the lawsuit brought by the Missouri-based agrichemical giant Monsanto against this self-represented defendant in the district court grew into the most significant legal decision so far on the issue of farmer’s rights to save and replant patented seeds. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision does to seed saving what Monsanto’s herbicide does to a conventional crop — kills it.

On Thursday, June 13, 2013, Professor Jeremy de Beer, of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, will present a comparative analysis of Monsanto v. Bowman and a very similar 2004 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, Monsanto v. Schmeiser. These two decisions of North America’s highest courts affirm the results of a series of cases commenced by Monsanto against farmers who plant its patented seeds without a license in various different circumstances.

The legal heart of these cases concerns the doctrine of patent exhaustion, which reconciles the intellectual property rights of patent owners and the classic property rights of farmers. Despite some nuanced differences, the American and Canadian Supreme Courts have clearly limited or even extinguished the application of this doctrine to patents on self-replicating organisms. Why?

While there are reasonable economic arguments supporting the courts’ decisions, this presentation presents an alternative hypothesis. Using the method of “legal archeology” it explores the social settings that led to these lawsuits. Contextual socio-legal analysis helps to unearth the complex roots of the seed patent cases, and explain their potential impacts on agricultural systems.

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