Bowman Decision a Win for Big Business
Do second-generation soybean seeds deserve the same patent rights as their predecessors? Or should the conditional sale doctrine be considered when investigating soybean patent rights rather than the doctrine of patent exhaustion? The Supreme Court tackled these questions while exploring the intricacies of the soybean farming industry when hearing a case between the Monsanto Company and a small farmer named Vernon Bowman. On February 19, American University’s Washington of College of Law also hosted post argument discussions with counsel and representatives from both sides.
Representing Monsanto, Paul Wolfson of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr presented the consequences of not recognizing patent rights to self-replicating technologies such as soybean seeds. The core of Wolfson’s argument was that companies spend tremendous amounts of money on research and development for self-replicating technologies, and if the U.S. does not grant patent protection to the naturally occurring second generations, then research will decline. Wolfson stated Monsanto has no other option than to charge each use of the seeds because “there [was] no possible way to recoup investment equal to charging off the very fist bag.” Monsanto and Wolfson both recognized that research costs are astronomical, and by allowing farmers to plant second-generation seeds free of charge, Monsanto would never be able to recoup their research expenses.
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