backtop


Print 46 comment(s) - last by CristinaHurt22.. on Feb 24 at 9:22 PM

Monsanto and Myriad are hopeful that the nation's highest court

Today nearly 20 percent of the human genome is patented.  Thousands of genetically modified plants and animals are patented as well.  But those patents could soon be invalidated, depending on how the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rules in a pair of key cases it will hear later this year.

I. Myriad and Patenting the Human Genome

The first case shaking the biotechnology agency is a lawsuit filed by the Association for Molecular Pathology, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against Myriad Genetics, Inc. (MYGN) and the University of Utah Research Foundation.

Myriad and the University of Utah had patented a pair of genes -- BRCA1 and BRCA2 -- which are associated with breast cancer.  They, and other human gene patent holders claim that isolating human genes makes them patentable, despite the same gene appearing in nature.  They feel that their patents entitle them to block research on the human genes, unless various companies and research institutions pay their fees.

BRCA Genes
Myriad "owns" two critical human genes involved with breast cancer.
[Image Source: AU-KBC RESEARCH CENTRE]

Critics say this approach is unethical and immoral.  They also argue that it illegal under provisions that "human organisms" [source] and "laws of nature" [source] are not patentable.

In 2010 Judge Robert W. Sweet, a federal judge with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, sided with the plaintiff's argument, ruling that human gene patents were invalid.

Now SCOTUS must decide whether to toss that decision, preserving the thousands of gene patents, or uphold it, throwing the biotech industry into chaos.

Oral arguments in the case will begin April 15.

II. Monsanto and Second Generation GMO Seed

The other significant case involves a 75-year-old southwestern Indianan farmer's case against Monsanto Comp. (MON) regarding genetically modified organism (GMO) crop lines.  Lawyers for Vernon Hugh Bowman argue that companies like Monsanto should not be able to stake ownership to the offspring of GMO crops capable of reproduction.

Monsanto argues that ruling second-generation crops patent-free would "devastate innovation in biotechnology", commenting, "Investors are unlikely to make such investments if they cannot prevent purchasers of living organisms containing their invention from using them to produce unlimited copies."

One acre of GMO soybeans can produce enough beans to seed 26 acres of crop.  In other words if the SCOTUS sides with Mr. Bowman, GMO seeds may be a one-time purchase for careful farmers.

Monsanto
Farmers are upset about Monsanto's lawsuits. [Image Source; AP/Greenpeace]

Currently, Monsanto requires farmers to sign contracts not to save seeds.  It has filed 140 patent lawsuits against 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses, according to The Center for Food Safety.  While most of the cases were settled out of court, Monsanto scooped up $23.67M USD in judgements from the farmers who did try to fight it in court.

Mr. Bowman's case revolves around Roundup, a popular pesticide used on 90 percent of soybean crops in the U.S.  Monsanto produced a special patented breed of soybean dubbed "Roundup Ready", which is immune to the herbicide.

Traditionally Mr. Bowman paid for a preliminary order of Roundup Ready soybean seeds each year.  But for his second crop he bought commodity soybeans from a local grain elevator, as that crop is more often prone to fail and Monsanto's seed is expensive.  The elevator grain consists of a blend of soybeans, most of which are Monsanto-derived crops.  Mr. Bowman argues he should not be held accountable for using that crop.

In 2007 Monsanto sued Mr. Bowman and in 2009 the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ordered Mr. Bowman to pay $84,000 USD in damages. That decision was upheld [PDF] in 2010 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

III. Monsanto Case Takes Different Angle: Patent Exhaustion

Unlike the Myriad case, the Monsanto case does not look to directly challenge the patentability of GMOs.  Rather, it argues that GMO crops should be eligible for patent exhaustion -- once [their seeds] are sold, the patent should no longer apply, they argue.

Mr. Bowman has done much of the research for the case himself on a library loaned computer (as he does not own a PC).  He is represented by Mark P. Walters of the firm Frommer Lawrence & Haug, which took the case on pro bono.  Despite the firm offering its services pro bono, Mr. Bowman has still been forced to pay over $31,000 in legal fees.
 
Vernon H. Bowman
Vernon H. Bowman [Image Source: Aaron P. Bernstein for The New York Times]

In an interview with The New York Times, he states, "I was prepared to let them run over me.  but I wasn’t getting out of the road."

A date for the arguments has not been set.

Admittedly the cases are very different in several ways, but cumulatively they should prove a critical test of whether companies can reliably (and legally) patent living organisms.

Sources: SCOTUS [1], [2], The New York Times



Comments     Threshold


This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: Riduculous
By Trisped on 2/19/2013 5:21:52 PM , Rating: 2
The issue is not so much the gene its self, but the time and resources required to identify the link to cancer.

The researchers need a way to guarantee that they are compensated for their research. That being said, patents do not seem to be appropriate. They did not create the gene, they found it.

The genetically engineered crops is a different matter. If I understand correctly, Monsanto create the gene group which provides the desired properties (resistant to Roundup). What I do not understand is why Monsanto is suing Mr. Bowman. He paid for his first crop from Monsanto, and the second crop he paid for and received from a different supplier.

If anything, Monsanto should be suing the local grain elevator for distributing their product without their permission. Better yet, they should upgrade their contract to require growers to not sell to individuals who will resell it as seed. They could even make the contract similar to those used in open source projects, requiring any user (or in this case purchaser) of the original seeds or the results of the growth to acknowledge and accept the agreement.


RE: Riduculous
By tng on 2/19/2013 5:35:31 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
If anything, Monsanto should be suing the local grain elevator for distributing their product without their permission
Well, Monsanto has a history of suing people who are less able to defend themselves thinking that an example needs to be set or maybe they are just mean. Suing a co-op or larger corporation is not what they like to do, corporations are more able to defend themselves.


RE: Riduculous
By tng on 2/19/2013 5:39:43 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The issue is not so much the gene its self, but the time and resources required to identify the link to cancer.
Yes there were resources used to research this, but if it was only the University of Utah involved, they would just publish. The problem is when private industry becomes involved there has to be a profit involved.

There are some good uses of government grants and this is one of them.


RE: Riduculous
By Hakuryu on 2/19/2013 6:07:04 PM , Rating: 5
Neighbor plants Monsanto, you don't, in a couple of years you get sued for having seed with Monsanto characteristics. This is how Monsanto operates; even being accused of cheaply selling seed to neigbors of people who refuse to buy their seed, so in a few years they must buy Monsanto or get sued after pollination does it work. Lots of good docs about this.


RE: Riduculous
By bah12 on 2/20/2013 12:04:39 PM , Rating: 2
Also check out the show Food Inc. interesting documentary about the food industry. Absolutely amazing how ruthlessly these guys protect their seed.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1286537/


RE: Riduculous
By FaaR on 2/19/2013 7:09:10 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
If anything, Monsanto should be suing the local grain elevator for distributing their product without their permission.

It's not their crop when bees - whom have existed for millions of years - cross-pollinate regular crops with monsanto-patented pollen.

If this was to be taken to the extreme that shitpile companies like Monsanto want, they would eventually be able to tax every farmer for every harvest, in perpetuity, simply because GMO crops pollute existing, as well as wild strains of crops.

Imagine having to pay every god damn GMO corporation who ever released seeds with patented genes on the market. What a nightmare - for us. It's the ultimate wet dream of Monsanto executives.


RE: Riduculous
By DiscoWade on 2/19/2013 7:24:53 PM , Rating: 2
The funny thing is I know two farming families who think Monsanto is the best thing to farmers since the plow. I'm not saying Monsanto is an upright respectable company, but it is my opinion, talking to the farmers I know, that Monsanto isn't as bad as their reputation states. As the saying goes, there are three sides to every story: What he says, what she says, and what really happened.

Personally I hope the Supreme Court invalidates patents on genetics. There needs to be another way to compensate and thus encourage companies to do genetic research. I think patenting the building blocks of life is fundamentally wrong. Where will it end?


RE: Riduculous
By lilBuckwheat on 2/20/2013 7:13:33 AM , Rating: 2
Are your friends from India?

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/12/2...

The third side to this story drank insecticide in his own barren field.


RE: Riduculous
By Strunf on 2/20/2013 7:43:31 AM , Rating: 2
Monsanto is not so bad if you're in bed with them, they make plants that are more resistant to plagues and hence the farmer using them doesn't need to spray as many chemicals on their crops as everyone else, this is a good thing, it only turns bad when you realize your plants don't live in a contained space and that you are also contaminating the plants nearby (actually it could be kms away), and it turns even worst when Monsanto actively goes after your neighbor cause he was unlucky enough to be a neighbor of someone using OGM crops.

The least Monsanto could do is to offer the neighbors at a FRAND price new seeds (OGM free) each year in a way that they will not use the OGM contaminated seeds from last year.

There are three sides of the story but not the ones you point, there are the farmers that happily use Monsanto seeds, the ones who chose to not use them and the others who don't care about it, the last two are the ones that will eventually get Monsanto knocking on their doors claiming they are using seeds with their patented genes.


RE: Riduculous
By GotThumbs on 2/20/2013 8:21:19 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, but I've got a patent pending for Bee's, so any farmer, land owner whose crop/flowers are pollinated by a Bee will owe me 5 cents each instance.

I should have about 10,000 cases filed in US courts by summers end.

(Sarcasm of course)


RE: Riduculous
By 91TTZ on 2/20/2013 3:44:56 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
The issue is not so much the gene its self, but the time and resources required to identify the link to cancer. The researchers need a way to guarantee that they are compensated for their research.


"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere."

The thing about science is that discoveries should be public. If anything, the scientist who discovers something gets to put their name on it.

Can you imagine if someone patented the existence of Mars or Neptune? Or what about the atom? It took a lot of researching to discover these things.


“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith














botimage
Copyright 2014 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki