University group sues Monsanto over patent

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A crop technology research group tied to Iowa State University has accused agricultural biotechnology leader Monsanto Co. MON.N of infringement on patented technology involving a popular new type of soybean.

In a lawsuit filed in a federal court on Monday, the Iowa State University Research Foundation accused Monsanto of commercializing a low-linolenic acid content soybean, which is considered healthier and more desirable than conventional soybeans. The foundation holds at least eight patents covering methods for breeding and manufacturing such soybeans.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, claims Monsanto has been aware of the infringement and seeks an injunction against the company. It also seeks trebling of damages due to the “knowing willful and wanton nature of Monsanto’s conduct.”

The foundation, which manages intellectual property arising from research at Iowa State University, claims in the suit that university professors have been developing low-linolenic acid content soybeans since 1968.

The suit states that Monsanto requested a meeting in February with the research foundation after being notified of the infringement issue, but specifically requested that no lawyers be present.

Though several settlement options were discussed, none was agreed upon, according to the research foundation.

Monsanto issued a statement on Tuesday saying the lawsuit was without merit because the company’s scientists developed Monsanto’s patented low-linolenic acid soybean product using publicly available germplasm.

“We did not use any material from ISU and did not infringe upon any of ISU’s patents,” the statement said.

Monsanto said it did try to resolve the issue and believed it had an agreement with the foundation.

St. Louis-based Monsanto states in marketing materials that the soybeans it has trademarked as “Vistive” contain less than 3 percent linolenic acid, compared with 8 percent for traditional soybeans, resulting in a more stable soybean oil and less need for hydrogenation.

The beans are aimed at food processors working to remove harmful transfats from their products.