A PBS NewsHour segment recently discussed two patent law cases the US Supreme Court will be hearing this session, with both decisions possibly having profound implications for intellectual property rights. On February 19, the high court heard arguments in Bowman v. Monsanto Co., and oral arguments in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. are scheduled for April 15.
Vernon Hugh Bowman is a 75-year-old farmer who bought Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans intended for animal feed from a grain elevator in 1999. Bowman instead planted those seeds containing Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready gene, sprayed them with Roundup and saved seeds for later plantings. While farmers who buy the agricultural giant’s seeds also sign contracts in which they promise not to save seeds from the resulting crop (thus agreeing to buy news seeds every year), Bowman argued that the legal doctrine of first sale—or patent exhaustion—meant that he could do whatever he wanted with a product he obtained legally. A lower court found in favor of Monsanto, and ordered Bowman to pay $84,456 in damages for patent infringement.
“It was clear in the arguments that—in the justices’ comments that they knew they were dealing with a new technology here, and this case is going to have ramifications for other replicated technologies like software that’s very easily replicated, and that’s why you saw groups filing amicus briefs in the case, groups like the software industry and biotechnology industry, as well as the agricultural industry,” National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle says in the video. “On the other side, for Mr. Bowman, the farmer, were consumer and food safety groups that are concerned about almost the monopoly power that Monsanto has here and how its pervasive influence in the market for soybeans is increasing prices for farmers.”
The Myriad case will address whether human genes are patentable. The case involves two genes labeled BRCA1 and BRCA2. The genes are known to have genetic mutations that suggest a much higher risk of cancer in women, but the patents prevent other from studying, testing or looking at the genes. Supporters of the gene patents claim that allowing such patents leads to greater investment and promotes innovation, but critics allege that patenting genes prevents other parties from conducting important research and limits options for cancer patients.
There will be a significant number of parties with tremendous interest in both of these decisions, and you can learn more about intellectual property litigation by visiting our website. If you are seeking legal counsel for a patent infringement claim, contact our firm at (323) 653-3900 or fill out the form on this page to let our Los Angeles patent infringement lawyer review your case.
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