Farmers in Brazil’s biggest soybean-producing state Mato Grosso have requested that a court cancel Monsanto’s Intacta GMO seed patent. They have claimed there are irregularities, such as the firm’s alleged failure to prove it brings significant technological innovation.
The Mato Grosso branch of Aprosjoa, which is the association that represents the soybean growers, is filing a federal lawsuit in a court in Brasilia. The growers have claimed the Intacta RR2 PRO patent does not completely reveal the invention to allow, at the conclusion of the exclusivity period, for any one person to have free access to it.
This requirement avoids that any company controls a technology for a period of time that is undetermined, Aprosja stated. It added that the patent protection for Intact extends through October 2022.
The judge ordered local units of the Monsanto company to deposit funds in an escrow account royalties that are related to the Intacta seed patent, pending the conclusion of the patent litigation. Brazilian soybean growers suing the GMO company over the patent validity that they expected the firm would collect $204 million in royalties that were related to the seed technology in the 2017 and 2018 crop cycle.
The organization cited data from the consultancy Agroconsult. It said that approximately 53% of the soy area in Brazil has been planted with Intact technology in the 2016 to 2017 crop cycle. Approximately 40% of the crop was grown with Roundup Ready seed technology from Monsanto and just seven percent of it is non-GMO.
Farmers in Brazil have been constantly urging the replacement of GMO soybeans with seeds that are non-GMO. In recent months, they have asked Monsanto and other producers of pest-resistant seed corn to pay them back for additional pesticides they had to use when the bugs killed the crops rather than dying.
Approximately five years ago, five million soybean farmers in Brazil sued the Monsanto company and claimed the GMO company was getting royalties on crops it was unfairly claiming as their own. In 2012, the court in Brazil ruled in favor of the farmers. It said that Monsanto owed them a minimum of $ billion since 2004.
After these legal disputes, Monsanto ceased collecting royalties that are linked to its first-generation Roundup Ready products, and some of the farmers agreed to take a discount rate so they could use Intacta seeds.
Biotechnology crops are genetically altered to resist disease and pests, better tolerate drought and withstand weedkillers such as glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the Roundup herbicide.
In the United States, the herbicide has been deemed safe since 2013. That was when the EPA gave approval for more tolerance levels of the chemical. But in recent times, the WHO ruled that it is a carcinogen, which along with several other Monsanto chemicals, could lead to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism.
Seed Companies Are Broadly Preparing for Licensing and Litigation Problems
Not just Monsanto is worrying about licensing and litigation problems rising from their increasing patent portfolios of GMO seeds. European seed companies are also preparing for litigation, according to an IP research manager at a seeds company based in the Netherlands. He noted that he believes the GMO seed sector will be forced to look at future lawsuits especially seed companies that have something to offer.
Advances in technology in agriculture are causing seed companies to change their business models and to become more akin to biotechnology companies. This is making it easier for them to register patents.
This development has brought a patent boom in the biotechnology industry because companies want the ample commercial opportunities that come from better protecting their inventions. But companies fear that more patients could cause some companies blocking the access of competitors to innovations of plant varieties and boosted opposition will be the result.
This could erode the current sharing culture that the biotechnology seed industry has relied upon to survive and thrive and innovate. As the leader of industrial property at a seeds company in Europe has noted, developments in plant varieties only can be made if companies are working together to improve one another’s products.
It is difficult for plant breeding to be done from scratch; seed companies need to work on material that is already in existence. This means they are regularly standing on the shoulders of the last generation.
European seed companies have not traditionally owned very many patents. The European Patent Convention and EU Biotech Drive establish that plant varieties and biological processes for plant production have been excluded from the protection of patents. This is in strong contrast to other jurisdictions, such as in the US.
But the laws do not rule out patent protection of all plant varieties. But they have a substantial effect in limiting the number of inventions that seed firms may register in Europe. These firms have been relying upon plant breeders’ rights for many years to protect their inventions in Europe. These rights grant the total control over the harvesting and propagating material of new plant varieties as long as they are new, uniform, distinct and stable.
- Brazil Monsanto Soy Court. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.rt.com/business/409364-brazil-monsanto-soy-court/
- Seed Patent Growth Prompts Litigation Concerns. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.managingip.com/Blog/3841689/Seed-patent-growth-prompts-litigation-and-licensing-fears.html