WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court appeared likely Tuesday to side with Monsanto Co. in its claim that an Indiana farmer violated the company's patents on soybean seeds that are resistant to its weed-killer.
None of the justices in arguments at the high court seemed ready to endorse farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman's argument that cheap soybeans he bought from a grain elevator are not covered by the Monsanto patents, even though most of them also were genetically modified to resist the company's Roundup herbicide.
Chief Justice John Roberts wondered "why in the world would anybody" invest time and money on seeds if it was so easy to evade patent protection.
To protect its investment in their development, Monsanto has a policy that prohibits farmers from saving or reusing the seeds once the crop is grown. Farmers must buy new seeds every year.
The case is being closely watched by researchers and businesses holding patents on DNA molecules, nanotechnologies and other self-replicating technologies.
The issue for the court is how far the patents held by the world's largest seed company extend. More than 90 percent of American soybean farms use Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" seeds, which first came on the market in 1996.
The 75-year-old Bowman bought the expensive seeds for his main crop of soybeans, but decided to look for something cheaper for a risky, late-season soybean planting.
He went to a grain elevator that held soybeans it typically sells for feed, milling and other uses, but not as seed.
Bowman reasoned that most of those soybeans also would be resistant to weed killers, as they initially came from herbicide-resistant seeds too. He was right, and he repeated the practice over eight years. In 2007, Monsanto sued and won an $84,456 judgment.
Across the court's conservative-liberal divide, justices expressed little sympathy for Bowman's actions.
Justice Stephen Breyer said Bowman could make many uses of the soybeans he bought from the grain elevator. "Feed it to the animals. Feed it your family or make tofu turkey," Breyer said.
But patent law makes it illegal for Bowman to plant them. "What it prohibits here is making a copy of the patented invention and that is what he did," Breyer said.
Mark Walters, Bowman's Seattle-based lawyer, tried to focus the court on the claim that Monsanto has used patent law to bully farmers.
"What they are asking for is for the farmer to assume all the risk of farming, but yet they can sit back and control how that product is used," Walters said.
Monsanto lawyer Seth Waxman said the company put 13 years and hundreds of millions of dollars into developing herbicide-resistant seeds.
"Without the ability to limit the reproduction of soybeans containing this patented trait, Monsanto could not have commercialized its invention and never would have produced what is now the most popular patented technology" in farming, Waxman said.
The Obama administration also is backing the company.
Consumer groups and organic food producers have fought Monsanto over genetically engineered farm and food issues in several settings. They lost a campaign in California last year to require labels on most genetically engineered processed foods and produce. Monsanto and other food and chemical companies spent more than $40 million to defeat the ballot measure.
A decision is expected by June.
The case is Bowman v. Monsanto Co., 11-796.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Fourth and sixth graders at Leo Elementary School were given a survey intended to improve student life. Parents were not notified of the survey ahead of time, and said some questions were an invasion of privacy and home life.
The deaf community in South Africa says an interpreter for Nelson Mandela's memorial was a fake. A revelation that has caused an uproar worldwide.
Police arrested a man after he apparently sent threatening letters to a woman and to himself to throw police off track. Officials said he also set his own truck on fire.
The program provides free cab rides home to impaired drivers during the holiday season until January 1.
Police arrested two people after they went on a shopping spree using credit cards that were stolen from a woman at gunpoint in her parent’s driveway. Police were able to arrest the suspects within hours because the credit card companies told the victim where her cards were being used.
O'Donnell will be performing country music, inspirational ballads, pop hits and Irish standards at the Embassy Theatre, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, at 7 p.m.
Check out the photos viewers sent NewsChannel 15 of the snowfall on Wednesday.
A man who appeared to provide sign language interpretation on stage for Nelson Mandela's memorial service, attended by scores of heads of state, was a "fake," the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa said on Wednesday.
While there are no serious crashes to report, snowy roads made for a dangerous morning commute. Roads are still extremely slick in places and they could stay that way for most of the day.
Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control is offering free straw to anyone in Allen County who needs animal bedding during the cold winter.
Visitors to downtown Fort Wayne can now stay connected on all their wi-fi capable devices thanks to new hot spots at Freimann Square and One Summit Square.
The public is invited to attend, and encouraged to bring gifts for the animals, the 2013 Christmas Open House from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The suspension of a 6-year-old boy for kissing a girl at school is raising questions about whether the peck should be considered sexual harassment.
Time magazine selected Pope Francis as its Person of the Year on Wednesday, saying the Catholic Church's new leader has changed the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution in an extraordinary way in a short time.
The chief of a southwestern Indiana volunteer fire department has resigned after being confronted about postings on his Facebook page saying he was a racist and had joined the Ku Klux Klan.