The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision, on January 13, 2014, in the landmark federal lawsuit, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case, denying family farmers their right to argue on behalf of gaining protection from patent litigation abuse by Monsanto. The high court decision further dashes the hopes of plaintiffs who sought the opportunity to prove in court that Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) seed patents are invalid.
“While the Supreme Court’s decision to not give organic and other non-GMO farmers the right to seek preemptive protection from Monsanto’s patents at this time is disappointing, it should not be misinterpreted as meaning that Monsanto has the right to bring such suits,” said Daniel Ravicher, Executive Director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and lead counsel to the plaintiffs in OSGATA et al v. Monsanto. “Indeed, in light of the Court of Appeals decision, Monsanto may not sue any contaminated farmer for patent infringement if the level of contamination is less than one percent. For farmers contaminated by more than one percent, perhaps a day will come to address whether Monsanto’s patents may be asserted against them. We are confident that if the courts ever hear such a case, they will rule for the non-GMO farmers.”
Farmers had sought Court protection under the Declaratory Judgment Act that should they become the innocent victims of contamination by Monsanto’s patented gene-splice technology they could not perversely be sued for patent infringement. In a complicated ruling issued in June 2013 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., American farmers were handed a partial victory when the three justices agreed with the farmers’ assertion that contamination by Monsanto was inevitable. The justices ordered Monsanto not to sue American farmers whose fields were contaminated with trace amounts of patented material, which the Court defined as 1%.
Plaintiff-farmer Rosie Marie Burroughs, a 4th-generation organic dairy farmer from California Cloverleaf Farms, said, “Monsanto cannot be trusted. Their refusal to provide a binding legal covenant not to sue our fellow farmers would make anyone wonder, what are their real motives? GMO contamination levels can easily rise above 1% and then we would have zero protection from a costly and burdensome lawsuit.”
Jim Gerristen, Maine organic farmer and OSGATA President said, “The Supreme Court failed to grasp the extreme predicament family farmers find themselves in. The Court of Appeals agreed our case had merit. However, the safeguards they ordered are insufficient to protect our farms and our families. This high court which gave corporations the ability to patent life forms in 1980, and under Citizens United in 2010 gave corporations the power to buy their way to election victories, has now in 2014 denied farmers the basic right of protecting themselves from the notorious patent bully Monsanto.”