While I do not specialize in patent but rather trademark and copyright, I have often wondered about the morality of using intellectuality property law as a tool in dominating the worlds food markets. I have currently written three articles examining different aspects of this issue. I would encourage anyone who participates in the economy or eats food to read these articles and comment. I will likely write future articles on this subject as well.
At the outset I encourage readers to view a documentary, which was originally aired in France, called: "The World According To Monsanto."
Monsanto began in 1901 and spent most of the life of the company as a strictly chemical company. But in 1960 the Monsanto Agricultural Division was formed. Shortly thereafter they began developing powerful herbicides, including Agent Orange. This dioxin was a combination of two Monsanto products; 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, which had been used domestically since the late 1940s.
In 1976 Monsanto developed the herbicide, Roundup, which quickly became the best selling herbicide in the world. Shortly thereafter, in 1982, Monsanto became the first to genetically modify plant life. In that same year they acquired Jacob Hartz Seed Co., known for its soybean seed and in 1996 Monsanto introduces a Roundup resistant genetically engineered soybean seed.
Monsanto promptly acquired patents on these seeds and since that introduction has developed a variety of other genetically engineered seeds, acquiring patents on these as well.
According to Monsanto, it is dedicated to integrity, honesty, decency, dialogue, transparency, sharing and benefits, including thoughtful and effective stewardship to deliver high-quality products that are beneficial to our customers and to the environment.
However, the facts appear to suggest otherwise and point toward a company who will do or say anything to acquire total domination of the global food market.
Avoiding Blame for Spreading Patented Genetic Material
When a farmer agrees to use Monsantoâs genetically engineered seeds they must sign an agreement in which they, in part, agree to not save and replant seeds from one growing season to another.
Monsantoâs Technology Use Guide recognizes that genetically engineered crops are, by their nature, transportable from a userâs farm onto another farm by pollen flow or through seed movement via animals or equipment: âSince corn is a naturally cross pollinated crop, a minimal amount of pollen movement (some of which can carry genetically modified traits) between neighboring fields is a well known and normal occurrence in corn seed or grain production.â
Such pollen flow and seed movement presents a direct economic threat to farmers growing non-genetically engineered crops. Nonetheless, the Technology Use Guide implicitly provides that growers using genetically engineered seeds are under no obligation to prevent the spread of patented genetic traits to other neighboring farms. The Technology Use Guide states that growers of non-genetically engineered crops that certify their crops for specific markets ââ¦assume the responsibility and receive the benefit for ensuring that their crop meetsâ¦specifications for purity.â
So why would Monsanto not seek to restrict cross pollination? After a plethora of lawsuits against farmers whose crops have been contaminated by Monsantoâs genetically engineered seeds the reason has become apparent. After the cross pollination occurs into neighboring fields, Monsanto brings a lawsuit alleging patent infringement and seeking damages against these unwitting farmers. Sounds to me more like the Monsanto seeds are trespassing in the neighboring land.
This is perhaps one of the worst examples of Monsantoâs heavy handed approach to dominating the food industry, however, farmers who are attracted by the glamor of having a crop that will survive strong herbicides that will kill everything else, soon find themselves permanently tied to Monsanto.
Once farmers sign a technology agreement, they are bound to Monsantoâs oversight. An updated agreement is mailed to farmers each year, and farmers that continue to use Monsantoâs technology after receipt of any new terms are automatically agreeing to be bound by the new terms.
Farmers who discontinue their use of Monsantoâs genetically engineered seed face patent infringement allegations in the event that some of that seed from the previous year sprouts âvolunteersâ in fields converted to conventional varieties. By growing these volunteers and harvesting them along with the rest of their crop, farmers could be considered to be âusingâ Monsanto technology, despite not having purchased Monsanto seed that year. This inadvertent use, in combination with receiving a new technology agreement from Monsanto, could constitute tacit acceptance of any new terms outlined in the agreement, thereby exposing the farmer to patent infringement prosecution.
Agreement Breaches Often End in Bankruptcy
The Technology Agreement exposes the seed purchasing farmer to a huge financial liability. Should the farmer ultimately be found legally responsible for breaching the terms of the technology agreement, bankruptcy is not an uncommon outcome.
The agreement provides that if a grower saves, uses, sells or acquires seed for planting in violation of the agreement, the grower is liable to Monsanto for patent infringement. This liability can also lead to the grower paying Monsanto and its licensed technology provider(s) for their attorneysâ fees and costs of enforcing the agreement.
Adding to these costs, Monsantoâs technology agreement also places farmers at an additional disadvantage by requiring that the sole and exclusive jurisdiction and venue for all disputes (except those involving cotton) go to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri or the Circuit Court of the County of St. Louis, both in Monsantoâs hometown. Farmers from outside Missouri who are sued must not only battle the legal team of a big corporation but must also find a lawyer outside their home state.