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Who lost it…. plant breeder or farmer or we August 16, 2004

Posted by mais in Litigation, Patent, USA.
Tags: , , ,

Navigating the patent maze: Court Decisions: “Schmeiser v Monsanto
By this time, most of you have heard that ‘Monsanto won’ over Percy Schmeiser in the Canadian Supreme Court. Actually, Mr Schmeiser was found to have infringed Monsanto’s patent but no damages were assessed. It was a close decision and a momentous one for two main reasons. Several commentators have written about how genetically-engineered plants are essentially, if not expressly, protectable because of the gene introduced. In another blog entry, I will discuss that issue. For this entry, however, I raise the possibility that the Court has defined ‘use’ of a patented invention in such a way that that there may now be an exemption for basic science research in Canada.
Monsanto Canada Inc v Schmeiser 2004 SCC 34.

In particular, the court defined ‘use’ as utilization with a view to production or advantage. The use then that interferes with the rights granted to the patent owner is infinging. Amazingly, the Court characterized deprivation of their rights when ‘another person, without licence or permission, uses the invention to further a business interest.’
Does this imply that a use that is not commercial or furthering a business interest is non-infringing? Would a research use in the confines of a non-profit or educational institute be non-infringing?
There are several ways that the Canadian Courts can go. For example, the Canadians, like their southern neighbor counterpart court, may say that essentially all uses have a business purpose, even universities who may ‘use’ in furtherance of their business of education and money raising. Or, they may hold that that commercial use is not the only use that can be infringing. The Canadian Supreme Court hints that the latter route is appropriate when they write ‘Even in the absence of commercial exploitation, the patent holder is entitled to protection.”

In Schmeiser’s case, Mr Schmeiser contended that he didn’t use the patented gene, which conferred resistance to roundup, because he didn’t spray the canola crop with the herbicide. But, the court still found ‘use’ of the invention because Mr Schmeiser’s business was growing canola, and he grew canola containing the patented seeds. Furthermore, he had the advantage of the stand-by use, meaning that he could have sprayed Roundup ™ or could have sold the seed to other farmers who didn’t want to pay the fee to Monsanto.

Where does this leave those who may use a patented invention in the context of research? Without clarification of this issue by the Canadian courts, I wouldn’t assume that there is now a research exemption. That said, despite what is likely a huge amount of infringment of patents in university settings, very rarely are universities and scientists there ever stopped from using a patented invention. For more on this subject, I refer you to this article: “Accessing other people’s technology for non-profit researchAJARE.pdf Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 46:3 389-416 (September 2002).

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