Judge scolds organic coalition for legal tactics against agri-giant
A federal district court judge in New York threw out a lawsuit
yesterday brought by pro-organic groups against St. Louis-based Monsanto, scolding the plaintiffs for their tactics.
Some 60 seed companies, family farmers and other organic folks had filed suit
last March. Their stated goal was to erect a legal shield around themselves so that Monsanto could not sue them for patent infringement if the agri-giant's crops sprouted up accidentally in their fields (through cross-pollination or seed drift, etc.).
They feared such legal action, they complained, because Monsanto:
holds many patents....that it has aggressively asserted against literally hundreds of farmers, including those farmers who became contaminated by Monsanto's transgenic seed through no fault of their own.
Those fears are unfounded, concluded Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald
in her memorandum and order
. The organic folks, she wrote, "overstate the magnitude of [Monsanto's] patent enforcement."
In reality, Monsanto brought 144 patent-infringement lawsuits against farmers between 1997 and April 2010 — an average of 13 per year — which, Buchwald asserted, is "hardly significant when compared to the number of farms in the United States, approximately two million." (Plus, she points out, Monsanto has never brought a case against an unwitting organic farmer whose field had some volunteer GM crop).
Yesterday, Monsanto heralded
the tearing down of this "historic myth," which has been "perpetuated" by members of the organic camp "through the Internet."
About three weeks after filing the suit, the coalition wrote Monsanto a letter. They asked the company to waive the right to sue them for patent-infringement.
Monsanto declined to do so, reiterating that it's not company policy "to exercise our patent rights where trace amounts of our seed or traits are present in [a] farmer's fields as a result of inadvertent means."
'Ah-ha!' said the coalition in effect, 'Monsanto won't promise to not sue us! That means we're in danger!'
No, you're not, ruled Judge Buchwald. She considered such an interpretation "a deliberate misreading," then really let the coalition have it:
"Plaintiffs' letter to defendants seems to have been nothing more than an attempt to create a controversy where none exists. This effort to convert a statement that defendants have no intention of bringing suit into grounds for maintaining a case, if accepted, would disincentivize patentees from ever attempting to provide comfort to those whom they do not intend to sue, behavior which should be countenanced and encouraged. In contrast, plaintiffs' argument is baseless and their tactics not to be tolerated."
Judge Buchwald dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that "there is no substantial controversy" and that there was "no injury traceable" to Monsanto.
Read the whole order below:
Organic Seed Growers et al v. Monsanto