We all know the story about the boy who cried wolf, and we all know the lesson learned in the story. If not, shame on you and ask your kids. A United States District Court recently found 62 farmer organizations and seed businesses were crying wolf in a recent lawsuit against Monsanto.
The 62 organizations were organic and non-organic crop and seed producers who did not want to buy, plant, harvest, or sell patented and genetically modified (transgenic) seed. However, the organizations were concerned Monsanto would pursue claims if their non-transgenic seed was unintentionally contaminated by Monsanto’s patent-protected seed. Therefore, the organizations requested the court to enter an order preventing Monsanto from pursuing such claims in the future.
Monsanto had never filed or threatened to file an infringement case against any of the 62 organizations. Furthermore, Monsanto had repeatedly stated that it would not exercise its patent rights in cases of inadvertent planting and/or harvesting of patented seed. Despite these facts, the organizations claimed Monsanto posed an imminent threat of pursing such claims even in slight contamination cases and the court had a duty to prevent potential claims. The organizations went so far as trying to create a threat by requesting Monsanto sign an all-encompassing waiver of any future infringement claims Monsanto may ever have against the 62 organizations. Monsanto understandably refused to sign which the organizations claimed evidenced Monsanto’s plan to file future claims.
Treating the organizations like the boy who cried wolf, the court scolded the organizations and found that Monsanto did not pose an imminent threat. The court emphasized the organizations failure to supply one example of Monsanto pursuing a claim against an individual or entity who unintentionally planted and/or harvested patented seed. The court further disapproved of the organizations’ trumped up threat based on Monsanto’s refusal to sign a blanket waiver of Monsanto’s rights.
The story ends badly for the sheep in The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Similarly, the organizations’ lawsuit may be detrimental to farmers and producers if the threat of future patent-infringement claims becomes real. No matter how legitimate, a court may defer to this case to determine that the threat is simply another false alarm.
The organizations need to be able to prove that Monsanto poses a legitimate threat the next time they call for help.
You can read the full opinion at Organic Producers et al v. Monsanto Co.