Legal battle over patented canola set for next June

The high profile legal battle between Monsanto and a Saskatchewan farmer will go to trial in Saskatoon next year.

The two sides will square off in federal court on June 5 to argue the company’s lawsuit alleging that Percy Schmeiser grew Roundup Ready canola without a licence.

The trial date was set at the end of an eventful week that has brought the issue of seed patenting to national attention by pitting a United States-based multinational corporation against a lone farmer from Bruno, Sask.

On Aug. 10, mediation talks to settle the dispute without going to trial ended in failure.

The next day, Schmeiser launched a $10 million lawsuit against Monsanto, accusing the company of a variety of wrongs, including libel, trespass and contaminating his fields with Roundup Ready.

Meanwhile, Monsanto filed a stack of court documents denying those allegations, including an affidavit from pioneer canola breeder Keith Downey disputing Schmeiser’s argument that the patented canola was spread to his field by natural means.

Craig Evans, Monsanto’s general manager of biotechnology and seed, said it’s disappointing that no settlement could be reached.

He said the company is pursuing the case in order to protect its patent rights and the rights of some 20,000 prairie farmers using Roundup Ready under licence.

“We’re just fulfilling the promise that we made to those growers who said: ‘I’m willing to pay for this but I don’t want other growers having a competitive advantage over me if they don’t pay for your technology’,” he said.

Schmeiser’s lawsuit against Monsanto won’t be dealt with until the original lawsuit has been resolved.

“We want to have the patent infringement hearings run their course, then we’ll pursue this,” said Schmeiser’s lawyer Terry Zakreski.

The case found its way into the courts in August 1998, when Monsanto filed a statement of claim alleging Schmeiser illegally bought Roundup Ready seed from local growers in order to plant his 1997 crop, then retained some of that year’s seed to plant in 1998.

Schmeiser said he planted his 1997 crop with seed saved from 1996, and insists that any Roundup Ready growing on his land was spread by the wind or by grain trucks traveling on roads adjacent to his fields.

In April, Schmeiser asked the court to dismiss Monsanto’s case for lack of evidence. That motion was withdrawn last week.

In the statement of claim filed last week, Schmeiser says Monsanto has libeled him by publicly accusing him of committing illegal acts, trespassed on his land in order to obtain seed samples and improperly obtained samples of his seed from a local seed plant.

The statement also accuses Monsanto of “callous disregard” for the environment by introducing Roundup Ready into the area without proper controls, and of contaminating crops grown by Schmeiser.

“The presence of Roundup Ready canola on the plaintiff’s property occurred as a result of contamination from seeds and pollen containing the genetic modification introduced into the environment by the defendant Monsanto,” it said.

The suit asks for $100,000 in damages for defamation of character and punitive damages in excess of $10 million.

A statement of claim consists of unproven allegations that must be tested by evidence presented to the courts at a later date. Evans said Monsanto will file a formal statement of defence denying all the allegations.

Monsanto has not made public its financial claim against Schmeiser, other than to say that typically in such a case it seeks to recover the value of the technology-use agreement of about $15 per acre, the proceeds from the crop and legal costs.