Monsanto wins Ontario patent cases

Monsanto Canada has emerged victorious in two Percy Schmeiser-type court cases in Ontario.

On Nov. 27, the Federal Court of Canada issued a judgment against Paul Beneteau of Amherstburg, Ont., for infringing the company’s Roundup Ready soybean patent.

The judge ruled Beneteau knowingly grew, harvested and sold 55 acres of genetically modified soybeans without paying for the technology.

He was ordered to reimburse Monsanto $8,800 in damages, which is an award of $160 per acre.

That ruling follows a June 25, 2007, decision against Edward Wouters of Forest, Ont., who illegally cultivated and sold 392 acres of Roundup Ready soybeans. Wouters was ordered to pay Monsanto $107,418.65 or what amounted to $274.03 per acre.

Company spokesperson Trish Jordan said taking violators to court is a necessary aspect of the seed technology business.

“We have a duty to protect our intellectual property and keep the playing field level for all growers who are purchasing Monsanto patented technologies,” she said.

Having a dispute go all the way to the judgment phase of a trial is a rarity. It has only happened three times – the two Ontario cases and the Schmeiser case, in which the Bruno, Sask., farmer took his appeals all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, losing at every step.

In the 11 years since Monsanto launched its Roundup Ready technology, the company has reached out-of-court settlements with 109 growers. The average is about 10 intellectual property infractions per year.

“Unfortunately there are growers who try to beat the system,” Jordan said.

The company catches violators in its random audits or through tips provided by some of the approximately 35,000 technology use agreement holders who are paying for the technology. They become irked when their neighbours boast about cheating the system.

But the policing system is far from foolproof.

“We probably don’t catch everybody.”

Monsanto hopes the recent Ontario rulings will deter future patent abuse. The two farmers will end up paying the company hundreds of dollars per acre for a technology they could have purchased for about $15 per acre.

Jordan said legal battles can be expensive but there is a greater cost to the company if it does nothing to enforce its patent.

“It is through the use of patents that we recoup our research investments, which allows us to continue to invest significant dollars in our research pipeline so that Canadian corn, soybean and canola growers will continue to have access to beneficial technologies in the future,” she said.

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