And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead.
I have to believe that anyone whose heard of the story of the farmer in Indiana that has been sued by Monsanto has, in some way, resonated with the story of David vs. Goliath. The simple old farmer vs. the giant corporation.
For years, Bowman has purchased the seeds from Monsanto for his first crop and he has abided by the technology agreement.
But like some other farmers, he sometimes plants a second crop of soybeans in a practice called “late season planting.” Because the late season planting is risky due to a short growing time and the threat of drought, Bowman didn’t want to invest in the expensive soy bean seed for the second planting.
He had an idea: He would save money and buy a mix of unlabeled seed from a grain elevator, hoping that most of it would be Roundup resistant. After harvesting that crop he would save the progeny and replant it.
“I didn’t look at it as a loophole,” Bowman said outside court today. He said the Monsanto patent was abandoned once the soybean reached the grain elevator.
To his credit, Bowman did what farmers have been doing for years; purchasing grain from an elevator to plant. On top of that, farmers have also held back some of their harvest themselves for planting later. Both of which are illegal under Monsanto’s licensing. The other step Mr. Bowman took? He asked Monsanto for legal guidance.
At first blush I sided with the farmer. After all, how crazy is it that a man can’t plant the harvest of his own field? And how long, exactly, does a company have claim to the seed that originated in their laboratory?
I wondered if there were any other such examples in all of history?
The answer? Yes, of course there are many.
- Computer programs
All of these products carry with them the inability of the purchaser to reproduce without the permission of the creator of the piece. Can you imagine the consequences if an author lost ownership of her story just because she sold it to a bookstore? Why, that bookstore could copy and resell that story as often as they wanted.
An artist who created a song or an album? It’s illegal to copy that art and then resell it.
And yes, in those cases it can be argued that the artist or author DID sell it to a clearing house and allow that clearing house the ability to reproduce. But consider a photographer. After a sitting that photographer owns the pictures and sells a subset to the client. And that client does not have the legal right to reproduce that photo, of herself that she paid for.
Legal questions aside, what are the ramifications to the industry is David slays Goliath? Why, Goliath will stop innovating new seeds that generate larger and larger harvests, are more resistant to disease and blight and allow an easier time to grow and harvest.
Innovation will surely slow down if not cease.
That, or innovation will INCREASE in the form of seeds that are modified in such a way that their progeny will not sprout when planted.
In the end, Monsanto owns the license to that feed and can sell it under any contract it desires. We can not expect a seed company to allow its customers to copy and reproduce its work anymore than we would expect a young artist to sell her painting and allow the purchaser to print it by the thousands.