To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “Well, There You Go Again!” The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit again affirmed that, while the practice of savings seeds after a harvest to plant the next season is as old as farming itself, you can’t save patented seeds.
After the district court held that Loren David knowingly infringed Monsanto’s seed patent, it awarded Monsanto damages, attorney fees, prejudgment interest, and costs of $786,989.43. On appeal, the CAFC affirmed that the patent was infringed but that some of the damages awarded were wrong. See Monsanto v. Loren David (07-1104).
Monsanto went after the farmer for breaching a technology agreement over genetically modified crops that resist glyphosphate herbicide. After planting these crops, farmers can spray glyphosphate herbicide over their fields to kill weeds while leaving the resistant crops intact. Monsanto sells seeds of the genetically modified crops, in this case soybeans, under the trade name Roundup Ready.
Monsanto’s U.S. Patent No. 5,352,605 claims a plant seed containing a genetic promoter sequence that facilitates a plant’s production of the modified enzyme that allows plants to survive exposure to glyphosphate herbicide. Monsanto distributes the patented seeds by authorizing various companies to produce the seeds and sell them to farmers. Monsanto required those seed companies to obtain a signed “Technology Agreement” from purchasers.
The Technology Agreement stipulates that buyers may use the seeds for the planting of only a single commercial crop, but that no seeds from that crop may be saved for future harvests. The Technology Agreement assures Monsanto that farmers must purchase new Roundup Ready® seeds each harvesting season, rather than simply saving seeds from the prior year’s harvest, as they normally would with conventional soybean seeds. Monsanto also charges a Technology Fee for each unit of Roundup Ready® soybean seeds sold. The Technology Agreement also contains a clause granting Monsanto the full amount of its legal fees and other costs that may have to be expended in enforcing the agreement.
Along comes Farmer David, a commercial farmer who owns soybean fields in North and South Dakota. He signs a Monsanto Technology Agreement in 1999 and plants some of the magic soybeans again in 2003. Monsanto claims that the seeds that David planted were Roundup Ready® soybeans improperly saved from the previous year’s harvest but David claims he did not save any seed.
Earlier, David purchased 645 units of Roundup Ready® soybean seeds, an amount of seeds that could not have covered David’s soybean fields in 2003. David also bought over 1,000 gallons of glyphosate-based herbicides in 2003, herbicide. Monsanto, ever vigilant for seed savers, tested David’s crops and found that they were from patented seeds.
David cleverly tried to show he purchased 993 units of Roundup Ready® soybean seed on May 31, 2003, but that was nearly a month after he claimed to have planted the majority of his soybean crop for the year. The court said “Nice try but no dice!”
Furthermore, the court found David’s testimony regarding his claimed purchase of conventional herbicides “not believable” and that David was unreliable as a witness. Hence, it ordered David to pay up.
It is important to note that the ‘605 patent claims a gene sequence, not a plant variety or a seed. David tried pleading that the ’605 patent cannot be infringed merely by saving seeds from plants containing the patented gene sequence. He argued that the written description of the ’605 patent lacks the specificity that would be required of a patented plant variety under the utility patent statute; thus, the ’605 patent is limited to the gene sequence and does not cover the plant containing such a gene.
David tried to fly under the premise that under J.E.M. Ag Supply, Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, plants can only receive patent protection under the Plant Patent Act of 1930, the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970, or under a utility patent on a plant variety. Thus, a utility patent on a gene sequence does not entitle the holder of that patent to enforce its grant of exclusivity against growers of plant varieties that contain the gene sequence.
Monsanto responded by showing that the holding of J.E.M. is just the opposite of what David claims it to be; patentable subject matter remains unmodified by the existence of the P.V.P.A. and the P.P.A. Moreover, Monsanto points to various decisions of this court that have read the ’605 patent onto plants and seeds containing the patented gene and holding those who save seeds liable for infringement.
The Supreme Court’s decision in J.E.M. stated that the existence of statutes specifically authorizing the patenting of plants (the P.P.A. and the P.V.P.A.) did not eliminate the availability of utility patent protection covering plants.
In smacking David down, the CAFC scolded him saying:
David’s real complaint seems to be that he should be able to save seed from his harvest, regardless of Monsanto’s patent. We have dealt with this complaint before. See e.g. Monsanto Co. v. McFarling, 302 F.3d 1291 (Fed. Cir. 2002). In McFarling, we held that a farmer who saved seed containing a patented gene was liable for patent infringement. Id. at 1299 (citing J.E.M., 534 U.S. at 604). McFarling further established that “the right to save seed of plants registered under the PVPA does not impart the right to save seed of plants patented under the Patent Act.” Id. We note that McFarling dealt with the very patent at issue in this case—the ’605 patent. We may not disregard a prior decision of this court regarding the same matter.
Due to his continually changing testimony, the court disregarded much of David’s testimony. See id. Given David’s unreliability as a witness, and a complete lack of other evidence supporting his claims, we conclude that the district court did not clearly err in determining that David planted saved seed.
David also tried to get the seed report tests conducted by Monsanto and the testimony of Monsanto’s expert Koppatschek, which relied on those seed report tests, thrown out.
Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence allows expert testimony if “(1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.”
This didn’t work since the Federal Rules of Evidence establish that an expert need not have obtained the basis for his opinion from personal perception. Reliance on scientific test results prepared by others may constitute the type of evidence that is reasonably relied upon by experts for purposes of Rule of Evidence 703.