Source: Nature, NewsBlog June 03, 2011
An ambitious lawsuit against the agricultural firm Monsanto got a little bigger this week, and a lawyer for the plaintiffs hopes that this is only the beginning.
The case was initially filed in March by the Public Patent Foundation (PubPat), a non-profit legal services organization based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, on behalf of 60 organic farmers and associated organizations. The farmers want assurance from Monsanto that they will not be sued for patent infringement if their farms become contaminated with the company’s genetically modified crops.
On 1 June, PubPat announced that the list of plaintiffs had grown to 83, and that the original complaint had been amended to include a recent exchange with Monsanto’s lawyers. In a letter written on behalf of Monsanto, Seth Waxman, former solicitor general under Bill Clinton and a partner at the law firm WilmerHale in Washington, DC, said Monsanto has no intention of suing the farmers for patent infringement. “Monsanto policy never has been, nor will be, to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of its patented seed or traits are present in a farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means,” he wrote, echoing a statement Monsanto has also made on its website.
But rather than placating PubPat, executive director Daniel Ravicher says he saw a veiled threat in the statement’s ambiguity. Farmers whose crops contain more than a “trace” — whatever that means — of contamination are still vulnerable to action by Monsanto, he argues. Instead, Ravicher wants a legally binding declaration that Monsanto will not sue his clients for patent infringement.