The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Monsanto Monday, in a major challenge to the biotech giant’s dominant market share over soybeans. Justice Elena Kagan held in a narrow ruling that farmer Victor “Hugh” Bowman violated Monsanto’s patent over its pervasive herbicide-resistant soybeans when it utilized the common practice of saving seeds from a first growing season and replanting them for a second, without paying Monsanto for the use of its technology every year. Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” seeds are used to grow about 90 percent of the nation’s soybean crop, and food safety experts say the vigorous patent enforcement has led to skyrocketing seed prices and less innovation by smaller firms.
The ruling is the latest by the particularly business-friendly Roberts Court to side with a major corporation over an individual or small business. (Another decision issued today sided with an individual suing a local towing company.) Unlike many of the court’s recent corporate-friendly rulings, however, this case was decided narrowly and unanimously, with Justice Kagan noting, “Our holding today is limited — addressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicating product. We recognize that such inventions are becoming ever more prevalent, complex, and diverse.”