WASHINGTON Jan 13 The U.S. Supreme Court on
Monday declined to hear an appeal by organic farmers and others
seeking to require Monsanto Co to promise never to sue
farmers if their fields inadvertently have plants containing the
company's patented genetically modified traits.
A company lawyer said Monsanto had not sued for inadvertent
use of its biotech seeds and did not plan to, but that it would
not make a blanket promise to that effect. Lower courts held
that none of those who sued had been injured.
The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and a group
of dozens of organic and conventional family farmers, seed
companies and public advocacy interests sued Monsanto in March
The suit sought to prohibit the company from suing farmers
whose fields became inadvertently contaminated with corn,
soybeans, cotton, canola and other crops containing Monsanto's
Monsanto has genetically engineered its specialty seeds to
withstand dousings of glyphosate, the main ingredient of the
company's Roundup herbicide. The company charges a premium to
farmers for use of its seeds and prohibits unauthorized
But there have been several cases in which the patented
genetic traits have been found to have mixed into fields where
farmers had not purchased or planted the biotech seeds. Monsanto
routinely sues farmers who it says intentionally plant its
biotech seeds without paying for the technology, but it has said
it will not sue farmers whose fields are accidentally
In the suit filed by the organic and conventional growers,
the group asked Monsanto for a pre-emptive pledge not to sue
them since they do not use the biotech seeds. But Monsanto
refused to do so saying a "blanket covenant" not to sue any
present or future member of the organizations would enable
"virtually anyone to commit intentional infringement."
The biotech crops are widely used throughout the United
The group of Monsanto critics lost in district court and in
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The appeals
court decision now stands.
"Monsanto never has and has committed it never will sue if
our patented seed or traits are found in a farmer's field as a
result of inadvertent means," said Kyle McClain, the company's
chief litigation counsel.
"The lower courts agreed there was no controversy between
the parties," McClain added, "and the Supreme Court's decision
not to review the case brings closure on this matter."
Daniel Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent
Foundation and lead counsel to the plaintiffs, said in a
statement that the high court's action was disappointing but
that "it should not be misinterpreted as meaning that Monsanto
has the right to bring such suits."
"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 1 percent."
Monsanto shares were down 1.5 percent at $111.30 just before
the close of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
The case is Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, et
al., v. Monsanto Company, et al. Supreme Court Case No. 13-303.