Bowman v. Monsanto: Unanimous Narrow Ruling Leaves Open Questions With Respect To Other Self-Replicating Technology and the Conditional Sale Doctrine
On May 13, 2013, in Bowman v. Monsanto, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that by growing new generations of seed beyond the first authorized planting, Vernon Bowman infringed Monsanto Co.'s patents for Roundup Ready seeds. In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Kagan, the Supreme Court held that patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder's permission, thereby affirming the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The Court expressly limited its holding to the seed technology in question, but suggested the possibility of a different result if the self-replication occurred outside the purchaser's control or if the self-replication was "a necessary but incidental step in using the item for another purpose." Additionally, the opinion did not address the conditional sale doctrine.