In 2004, Monsanto received an anonymous phone call claiming the central Missouri-based Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator, Inc. was cleaning Roundup Ready soybeans and helping farmers save patented seed. After a full investigation, Monsanto presented this and other evidence in a formal lawsuit against Pilot Grove Co-Op for patent violations in October 2006.
On July 16, 2008, legal proceedings ended with a mutually-agreeable settlement and Pilot Grove acknowledged violation of patent infringement. Under the terms of the settlement, Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator, Inc., will deposit $275,000 in an account -- and the income from that account will fund scholarships for the Cooper County, Missouri, FFA and 4-H programs. The Pilot Grove Co-op will also develop and adopt a stewardship policy to avoid future patent infringement, and will work with a third-party organization to provide training for employees.
Monsanto invests millions of dollars every day in the research and development of its agricultural products. Our primary reason for enforcing patent laws is to ensure a level playing field for honest, law-abiding farmers and to discourage using technology to gain an unfair advantage. Generally speaking, for every $10 a farmer spends on seed, Monsanto re-invests $1 in research and development. If farmers ignored the patent laws and saved our seeds, we would not be able to continuously fund the development of newer and better technologies.
Enforcing patent infringement involving seed piracy is not much different from the enforcement of other laws. The vast majority of farmers respect patent laws and honor their contractual agreements. Yet, when one farmer sees another farmer saving patented seeds, they will often report the violator for fairness’ sake. Monsanto customer service encourages the use of their anonymous reporting system for information about alleged patent violators.
When someone reports possible patent infringement, Monsanto thoroughly investigates the facts. If evidence shows seed piracy is occurring, Monsanto will work with the farmer to confirm the facts and discuss how to resolve the problem. When presented with facts proving patent infringement, most farmers will simply admit the violation and pay a fair settlement.
It is relatively rare that Monsanto sues over these types of patent violations. With approximately 275,000 customers in any given year, it is only a small fraction of those who save seeds. In most of these situations, we are able to reach a mutually agreeable settlement without filing suit. Since 1997, Monsanto has filed suit against farmers for seed piracy 138 times (as of July 2009) in the United States. Of these lawsuits, Monsanto proceeded through trial only nine times, winning each case.