According to NPR:
This week, the Supreme Court will take up a classic David-and-Goliath case. On one side, there's a 75-year-old farmer in Indiana named Vernon Hugh Bowman; on the other, the agribusiness giant Monsanto.
The farmer is fighting the long reach of Monsanto's patents on seeds — but he's up against more than just Monsanto. The biotech and computer software industries are taking Monsanto's side.
Here is what's at the issue according to the report:
Starting in 1999, he [Bowman] bought some ordinary soybeans from a small grain elevator where local farmers drop off their harvest. "They made sure they didn't sell it as seed. Their ticket said, 'Outbound grain," says Bowman.
He knew that these beans probably had Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene in them, because that's mainly what farmers plant these days. But Bowman didn't think Monsanto controlled these soybeans anymore, and in any case, he was getting a motley collection of different varieties, hardly a threat to Monsanto's seed business. "I couldn't imagine that they'd give a rat's behind," he snorts.
Bowman told his neighbors what he was doing. It turned out that Monsanto did, in fact, care.
"He wanted to use our technology without paying for it," says David Snively, Monsanto's general counsel.
I don't know if what Bowman did was legal or not. However, I have previously commented that many people do not seem to grasp the economics of the situation. Here's what I said back in October at the case:
What do you think will happen to the price of the first generation seed if farmers are able to freely replant the progeny? . . . if the Supreme Court rules that Monsanto does NOT own the progeny, then the value of the seed to farmers rises since they can re-use the seed. . . . For the indifference principle to hold (i.e., for equilibrium to be restored), the price must rise. Monsanto will charge more for it's initial offerings if farmers can freely replant.
I also subsequently posted on several myths that seem to be circulating in relation to this case.
The implications of the case could be far reaching. For example, when I sell a book, I get royalties when a new copy is sold. But, when it is re-sold as used I no longer make any money (but it seems that perhaps I could under the logic used by Monsanto). What about music? Back when I was in college, Napster was a big deal, but was subsequently shut down because it was apparently illegal to share songs in this fashion. It seems that some forms of music (electronic) are treated like Monsanto seed but other forms (old vinyl records) are not. Picasso made money the first time he sold a painting but not when the buyer re-sold it. But, what if he had copyrighted the image? Or patented his painting process?
The underlying issue here is when and how long do innovators hold the rights to their creations? And, are these rights maintained even after the original invention is re-sold?