Court throws out organic seed growers' case against Monsanto

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has thrown out a lawsuit filed by famers, seed sellers and agricultural groups that feared becoming the target of patent-infringement suits of St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2011, was considered a preemptive action by the plaintiffs, who stated in the lawsuit they “do not want to use or sell transgenic seed” incorporating Monsanto’s technologies but were concerned they may become accused of patent infringement if their crops became contaminated. The growers sought “a written covenant not to sue” from Monsanto, and without such a covenant they would “feel they would be at risk of having Monsanto assert claims of patent infringement against them should they ever become contaminated by transgenic seed potentially covered by Monsanto’s patents.”

In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals said Monsanto’s “binding assurances” on its web site that it won’t take patent action against farmers whose crops inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto’s biotechnology genes was sufficient to throw out the case.

“Monsanto’s binding representations remove any risk of suit against the appellants as users or sellers of trace amounts (less than 1%) of modified seed,” Circuit Judge Timothy Dyk wrote for the three-judge panel. “The appellants have alleged no concrete plans or activities to use or sell greater than trace amounts of modified seed, and accordingly fail to show any risk of suit on that basis.”

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