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Soybeans, Patents and Avoidable Headaches

In a recent (and unanimous) decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Bowman v. Monsanto, an Indiana farmer was found to have infringed upon Monsanto's patent rights for Roundup Ready soybeans. The essence of the farmer's scheme was to avoid paying the extra cost of buying the Roundup Ready soybeans from Monsanto by saving a portion of the farmer's Roundup Ready soybean crop and replanting this portion of the crop in another season. Since soybeans are themselves seeds, saving the crop is the same as saving the seeds.

Although the farmer argued that Monsanto could no longer control the use of its soybeans once they were originally sold by Monsanto, the Supreme Court disagreed and said that the farmer's actions deprived Monsanto of the monopoly Monsanto was due because of its patent. Although Monsanto still held its patent, Monsanto received no gain from the farmer's annual production and sale of Roundup Ready soybeans.

As can be seen in this case, patents can be very useful in preventing others from making or selling your product, or a product similar to your product. The monopoly granted by a patent gives you the ability to exclude others from making, using or selling your invention, which can have particular importance if your business is in a field where products (or ideas for improving products) are easily copied. For example, if an engine manufacturer develops improved valve timing for its engines, it may be possible for the engine manufacturer to obtain a patent for this improved valve timing and prevent competitors from incorporating this same idea into the competitor's engines. Patents can be an important tool in developing and/or maintaining market share for your business.

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