Friday, August 10, 2007

Monsanto Issued Smackdown Over Patents

And it’s about time. Corporate evildoer Monsanto has been issued a righteous smackdown by the United States Patent & Trademark Office, which rejected four of the corporation’s GMO patents challenged by activists “because the agricultural giant is using them to harass, intimidate, sue — and in some cases literally bankrupt — American farmers. ”

Challenges to Monsanto’s GMO patents were filed by the Public Patent Foundation which reports:
Monsanto has filed dozens of patent infringement lawsuits asserting the four challenged patents against American farmers, many of whom are unable to hire adequate representation to defend themselves in court.  The crime these farmers are accused of is nothing more than saving seed from one year's crop to replant the following year, something farmers have done since the beginning of time.  

One study of the matter found that, "Monsanto has used heavy-handed investigations and ruthless prosecutions that have fundamentally changed the way many American farmers farm. The result has been nothing less than an assault on the foundations of farming practices and traditions that have endured for centuries in this country and millennia around the world, including one of the oldest, the right to save and replant crop seed."

I first became aware of this issue when I saw the excellent documentary ”The Future Of Food.” I’ve since talked about the issue with my brother in law who is a farmer, and have had my eyes opened in a big way.

One of the most under-reported stories out of Tennessee concerns Covington cotton farmer Kem Ralph. Ralph was sued by Monsanto and actually sentenced to prison and fined $3 million for allegedly violating Monsanto’s copyright agreement -- an agreement he says he never signed. Ralph put up a strong fight but last year had to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

This David and Goliath tale shows how far Monsanto will go to oppress one family farmer:

Through a tip placed to the company, Monsanto discovered Ralph was saving seed - which he admits he's always done - and took him to court. The company has an all-purpose 800-number that generates some 500 calls a year, an undetermined percentage of which are tips from farmers who say they know of people saving seed.

"It's gotten to where they've got family members spying on each other," said Ralph's son, Josh. "And you know what? The thing of it is, we were making a lot more money even before their (enhanced seed) ever came out."

One of the four patents that the Patent & Trademark Office rejected is the one Ralph was convicted of violating.

According to the Public Patent Foundation, Monsanto can respond to the Patent Office's rejections but in similar cases, “the reviewed patents [were] either changed or completely revoked more than two-thirds of the time.”

Score one for the little guy.