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Monsanto Said It Won't Sue, Now It Can't, Says Federal Circuit

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on June 14, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals smacked down an idealistic but unrealistic legal campaign against Monsanto’s biotech patents this week, reports NPR.

The organic farmers marched went to court to declare the corporate giant’s patents invalid. According to the farmer’s lawyers, they were “forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement” if their field became contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed.

The plaintiffs set forth in their legal filings how the patents were legally deficient in several ways including that the covered technology has no beneficial social use and that the dozens of patents issued to Monsanto have illegally extended and entrenched its monopoly.

But the court shrugged because at the end of the day, there was no justiciable case or controversy. In this case, Monsanto says that it will not sue anyone for patent infringement when they accidentally grow trace amounts of patented crops.

Compounding the problem was that the organic farmers couldn't present any cases in which this happened, reports NPR.

If the company is affirmatively saying that they never have and never will sue anyone for innocent infringement and there's no farmer who has been harmed, there's no dice. You need a sufficiently concrete injury to support standing. The deprivation can't be anchored by future events that might very well not occur.

That being said, there's a pretty thick silver lining for the organic farmers.

Though the farmers came with a sword, they left with a shield. This is because the court's decision turns Monsanto's statement into a legally binding promise. Before the decision, Monsanto's policy of not suing farmers for innocent infringement was only stated on the company's website.

Most exciting for the farmers, Monsanto's policy statements are binding representations. This is due to judicial estoppel, since the court's decision to reject the farmers' claims relies explicitly on the company's policy statements.

According to the plaintiffs' attorney, the plaintiffs are considering asking the Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decision and ultimately reinstate the case.

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