Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Monsanto not the only one suing over IP rights

There seems to be constant controversy over larger companies suing farmers for intellectual property infringement, however, Monsanto and the big boys of seed are not the only racing to the courthouse anymore.

A lawsuit was filed today in Sioux Falls, South Dakota by South Dakota State University claiming that five producers violated its plant variety protection (PVP) certificates on spring wheat varieties Traverse and Briggs by knowingly selling or offering to sell without authority, a seed dealer's license, or proper seed certification. This practice of reselling seed is also known as brown-bagging and is violative of the PVPA as the farmer is selling seeds that he does not have permission to sell. Other large research universities, such as Kansas State University, Colorado State University, Oklahoma State University, have been more dogged in enforcing their IP rights through PVP certificates or patent protections, claiming that the proliferation of brown-bagging is leading to a decrease in research funds thereby hurting the dependent farming community as a whole.

These lawsuits are serious matters, as one lawsuit in Kansas resulted in a $150,000 agreed judgment against a producer. It also does not curry you favor with many neighbors who believe you are holding up research on new technology coming out of the large state-run universities that will work with the Crop Improvement Associations in providing limited amounts of public seed.

Interestingly, but not connected in anyway, these lawsuits come on the heels of Monsanto delving further into the wheat world by acquiring a smaller company Westbred in the Upper Midwest. I only mention this, because there probably would have been more of a public outcry if these producers alleged to have brown--bagged seed were sued by one of the larger seed/chemical companies.

Companies, institutions, people spend money, lots of it in many cases, to bring a product to market whether it be for purely profit or innovation's sake. Virtually all will file for protections that have been created by our Constitution or by statute in order to protect their right in the product from someone who did not put the time and money into research. No matter the size, or policies one may believe in regarding IP rights whether on products or life forms, the right to protect your property through the courts is fundamental to our economy and society. Actually, the reason for allowing suits for conversion (civil theft essentially) was to avoid the result of individual's taking justice into their own hands or being bullied by the offender. In that mindset, ironically, one of the most civil and socially acceptable actions you could commit in our society is by taking a dispute to the Courts.

Regardless if you are South Dakota State University, Monsanto, a small seed company, or the guy/girl that created the slap-chop on late night infomercials it is important for that individual or company to enforce any IP property rights that they took the time and trouble to obtain through these suits in an effort to keep structure in the system, as well as deter others from stealing someone else's idea. I understand its not always black and white in these situations, and that the majority of individuals or farmers are not committing these violations, but it is important to send a message to that very small minority that are causing a loss of money to research and undermining a private property system.

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