The seed giant has spent years going after anyone who plants its crops illegally—but now it has to defend itself in court
Michael Doane, Monsanto's wheat industry affairs director, examines a wheat field in North Dakota. Carey Gillam/Reuters
Tearing a page out of Monsanto's own playbook, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), an advocacy group whose mandate is to represent the public's interest in the patent system, filed suit (PDF) on behalf of 60 organic farmers, small farm organizations, and seed businesses this week against the litigious agrichemical and genetically modified (GM) seed giant.
In a press release, PUBPAT said, "The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should their crops ever become contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed." PUBPAT is asking the federal court in Manhattan to declare that if organic farmers' crops are ever contaminated by Monsanto's GM seed, they need not fear also being accused of patent infringement.
One of the ludicrous ironies of the United States patent system is that Monsanto essentially owns the genes in its crops. If those genes are found in plants on a farmer's property, and he has not purchased the seed from Monsanto, he can be sued for infringing Monsanto's patent—even if the genes got on his land through natural cross pollination or spread there accidentally from neighboring fields, and even if (as is the case of organic farmers who are prohibited from selling GM crops) he did not want the Monsanto plants on his land and stood to suffer financial harm as a result of their presence.