Farmer fined for patent infringement

Monsanto filed suit | Company said Roundup Ready canola was improperly grown in field

A farmer from Strathmore, Alta., faces a fine of approximately $544,000 in a default judgment for patent infringement of Roundup Ready canola.

In a July 24 hearing in Federal Court in Toronto, the court ruled that Doug Van Verdegem and Bar V Farms Ltd. violated the terms of a contract with Monsanto for use of its Roundup Ready canola technology.

Default judgments are issued when one party in the case fails to take action in the required manner and time.

Van Verdegem said Aug. 1 that he has since retained Saskatoon lawyer Terry Zakreski, the same counsel who represented Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser against Monsanto in a late 1990s landmark case also involving the company’s Roundup Ready technology.

Van Verdegem denies that he planted Roundup Ready canola in 2012, the year pertaining to the case. He said the test results from his 2012 canola were from volunteer plants taken from the road allowance and field edges.

“The world is polluted, totally polluted with their crap,” he said of Monsanto’s genetically modified canola.

“They should never have been able to patent living cells or organisms.”

Van Verdegem said he grew Roundup Ready canola in 2008 and 2011, for which he signed the mandatory technology use agreements, but did not plant it in 2012, a year in which he grew Liberty Link.

Trish Jordan, public and industry affairs director for Monsanto, said Aug. 1 that Van Verdegem agreed to participate in the company’s field check program when he signed the agreement.

Checks in 2012 revealed presence of the patented canola on 2,570 acres.

“He had signed a TSA (technology stewardship agreement) in 2008 and he purchased Roundup Ready canola in 2011. He did not purchase Roundup Ready canola in 2012 and the original finding actually arose from our field check program in 2012.”

Jordan said the company tried to resolve the matter before taking it to court, without success.

“Generally we don’t prefer to go this route but we really had no other option to us because he wouldn’t engage in the process. He basically was quite evasive and non co-operative in the legal process,” she said.

“He was presented with … all the materials. He clearly knew that we were moving ahead with this. Maybe he didn’t understand, but that was his prerogative, to either retain counsel or engage in discussions with us.”

Jordan rejected Van Verdegem’s claim that the tests were from volunteer plants.

“That’s just simply not correct.”

She said field checks initially showed 1,570 acres of RR canola were being grown without a licence. Another 1,000 acres were discovered later, when the farmer was seen harvesting canola on another property. Samples were then taken from adjacent land on public rights of way, Jordan said in a later email.

The judgment was made in Toronto because Monsanto wanted a ruling before harvest to avoid potential patent violation on the 2013 crop. Jordan said Toronto was the only place the company could get a meeting with a judge before harvest began.

Fines against Van Verdegem include $339,240 in damages, more than $5,000 in pre-judgment interest, $50,000 in punitive damages and $150,000 in legal costs.

As well, Van Verdegem is subject to an injunction against selling canola protected under Monsanto’s patent and planting its Roundup Ready canola in the future.

Van Verdegem said he expects the judgment to be reversed, adding he felt intimidated by Monsanto and those it hired in the case.

“They have totally destroyed our lives so far, with constant badgering and stuff,” he said.

Jordan said Monsanto tries to treat farmers with respect and transparency, while also protecting its rights.

“Farmers tell us that they expect us to keep the playing field level and that’s what we were doing in this case.”

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