May 21, 2013
Last week, the Supreme Court delivered a unanimous decision that was hailed by some as a major victory for intellectual property rights. Others worried about the implications for agriculture, the very foundation of civilization; and in the background — not raised by the nine justices, whom a recent study called “friendlier to corporate interests” than any court since 1946 — was the question of prices for farmers and consumers.
The case was Bowman v. Monsanto Co., in which the court held that an Indiana farmer infringed on the biotech giant’s patents when he planted genetically-modified soybean seeds not purchased from the company.
The seeds had been designed to withstand application of the herbicide glyphosate, which Monsanto markets as Roundup. Farmers who plant such “Roundup Ready” crops are required to sign an agreement with Monsanto stipulating that they will buy new seeds from the company each year, rather than using the products of the plants’ reproduction.