WASHINGTON » The Supreme Court agreed today to hear a dispute between a soybean farmer and Monsanto Co. over the company’s efforts to limit farmers’ use of its patented, genetically engineered Roundup Ready seeds.
The justices said they will hear an appeal from Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, who is trying to fend off Monsanto’s lawsuit claiming Bowman made unauthorized use of the seeds.
Monsanto’s patented soybean seeds have been genetically engineered to resist its Roundup brand herbicide. When Roundup is sprayed on a field, the product will kill the weeds without harming the crop.
The Obama administration urged the court not to take the case and warned that the outcome could affect patents involving DNA molecules, nanotechnologies and other self-replicating technologies.
Monsanto has a policy that prohibits farmers from saving or reusing the seeds once the crop is grown, ensuring that farmers have to buy new seeds every year.
Bowman used the patented seeds, but also bought cheaper soybeans from a grain elevator and used those to plant a second crop. Most of the new soybeans also were resistant to weed killers, as they initially came from herbicide-resistant seeds, too. Bowman repeated the practice over eight years. Monsanto sued when it learned what he was doing.
The company has filed lawsuits around the country to enforce its policy against saving the seeds for the future.
Bowman’s appeal was among seven new cases the court added today to its calendar for argument during the winter.
The justices also will consider whether a government’s refusal to issue a development permit can amount to “taking” private property for which the owner must be paid.
Patients, administrators, and family members of victims aired their reflections about medical errors in a video on the on-line New York Times this week (November 25, 2008). They all lamented that if only doctors and hospitals could own up to their mistakes, there just may be fewer lawsuits.
Two stories I listened to more than ten years ago underline that theme. A friend, a lawyer representing a medical provider, shared with me his concern about his client that he would be defending at trial that week. He had advised his client to settle because the evidence against his client was strong and he was not optimistic.
The patient had acquired an infection while in the hospital. The evidence was incontrovertible and the patient had died. But the patient was old and infirm and had little time left and even less quality time. The infection may have hastened the inevitable but it also made the end needlessly painful for both the patient and the patient’s family.
The family asked only that the hospital not bill them for the extended six month hospital stay caused by the infection. If the hospital agreed they would not sue. The hospital could not admit to a mistake and, as a result, appeared headed for a judgment that would cost the hospital several times the hospital stay.
The second story was from woman I met while waiting for jury duty. It seems that during stomach surgery her doctor had perforated her stomach and he did not discover it before she was stitched back up. The stomach acids caused havoc on her intestines. I asked her if she had sued her doctor. Oh no, she was quick to reply. The doctor was so distraught about the mistake. She could not do that to him. He had paid for all her medical expenses since the incident several years earlier. In addition, he only operated on one patient after that accident, resigning from his surgical practice, but not from his medical practice.