Justia Patents Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Agriculture Law
BASF Plant Science, LP v. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
CSIRO, a research arm of the Australian government, owns six U.S. patents, concerning the engineering of plants, particularly canola, to produce specified oils not native to the plants. After the resolution of jurisdiction and venue issues in an infringement case against BASF and Cargill, the case proceeded to trial on eight claims of the six patents. The parties stipulated to infringement of five patents; the jury found infringement of the sixth. The jury rejected invalidity challenges, including the challenge that the asserted patent claims lacked adequate written-description support. The jury found that BASF co-owned one patent (precluding infringement of that patent) but not the others. The district court ruled that the evidence would not support a finding of willfulness, denied a conduct-stopping injunction, and granted an ongoing royalty on all five patents found infringed.The Federal Circuit affirmed that Eastern District of Virginia venue was proper and affirmed the verdict rejecting the written-description challenge to the claims that are limited to canola plants but reversed as to the broader genus claims. The court agreed that five patents were not co-owned by BASF but reversed the contrary verdict as to the sixth, so that infringement of all valid claims of the six patents is now settled. The court upheld the district court’s refusal to submit willfulness to the jury and its decision on an evidentiary issue concerning past damages but remanded for reconsideration of the remedy. View "BASF Plant Science, LP v. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation" on Justia Law
ABS Global, Inc. v. Inguran, LLC
Until recently, Sexing Tech held a monopoly on the market for sexed cattle semen in the United States. Sperm‐sorting technology separates bull semen into X‐chromosome bearing and Y‐chromosome bearing sperm cells; the resulting “sexed semen” is used to inseminate cows artificially so that dairy farmers can breed only milk‐producing cows. ABS, a bull‐stud operation, sued, alleging that Sexing Tech had unlawfully monopolized the domestic sexed‐semen market in violation of section 2 of the Sherman Act by using its market power to impose coercive contract terms. ABS sought a declaratory judgment proclaiming those contracts invalid, to permit its own entry into that market. Sexing Tech counterclaimed that ABS infringed its patents and breached the contract by misappropriating trade secrets in developing ABS’s competing technology. Three claims went to trial: ABS’s antitrust claim and Sexing Tech’s patent infringement and breach of contract counterclaims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that ABS violated a confidentiality agreement it had with Sexing Tech and that Sexing Tech’s patent was not invalid on obviousness grounds. The jury’s assessments of two of the three patent claims still at issue cannot be reconciled under the rules governing dependent claims and enablement, and so a new trial is necessary on them. View "ABS Global, Inc. v. Inguran, LLC" on Justia Law
XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, L.C.
XY’s patents relate to the sorting of X- and Y-chromosome-bearing sperm cells, for selective breeding purposes. Trans Ova provides services related to embryo transfer and in-vitro fertilization for cattle. XY and Trans Ova entered into a five-year licensing agreement in 2004 under which Trans Ova was authorized to use XY’s technology, subject to automatic renewal unless Trans Ova was in material breach. In 2007, Inguran acquired XY and sent a letter purporting to terminate the Agreement because of alleged breaches. For several years, the parties negotiated but failed to resolve their disputes. Trans Ova continued to make royalty payments to XY, which were declined. XY alleges that it became aware of further breaches, including underpayment of royalties and development of improvements to XY’s technology without disclosure of such improvements to XY. XY sued for patent infringement and breach of contract. Trans Ova counterclaimed, alleging patent invalidity, breach of contract, and antitrust violations. The district court granted XY summary judgment on the antitrust counterclaims. A jury found breaches of contract by both parties; that Trans Ova failed to prove that the asserted patent claims were invalid and willfully infringed the asserted claims; and XY was entitled to patent infringement damages. The court denied all of Trans Ova’s requested relief and granted XY an ongoing royalty. The Federal Circuit affirmed except the ongoing royalty rate, which it remanded for recalculation. View "XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, L.C." on Justia Law
Delano Farms Co. v. Cal. Table Grape Comm’n
The USDA, owner of the patents on the table grape varieties Scarlet Royal and Autumn King, has exclusively licensed the patents to the California Table Grape Commission, which sublicenses to California grape growers and collects royalties that are shared by the Commission and the USDA. The licensing agreements require the growers to pay a royalty on grapes produced and prohibit the growers from propagating the plants. Growers who purchased grapevines covered by the patents, signed license agreements, and paid the fee, challenged the validity and enforceability of the patents, and the conduct of the Commission and the USDA in licensing and enforcing the patents. They argued that the grape varieties were in public use more than one year before the applications for both patents were filed, and that the patents are invalid under 35 U.S.C. 102(b). After the Federal Circuit held that the Administrative Procedure Act waives sovereign immunity for purposes of such an action against the USDA, the district court held that the actions of two individuals who obtained samples of the plants in an unauthorized manner and planted them in their own fields did not constitute an invalidating public use of the plant varieties. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Delano Farms Co. v. Cal. Table Grape Comm'n" on Justia Law
Trebro Mfg., Inc. v. Firefly Equip., LLC
Trebro’s patents involve sod harvesters: vehicles with knives that cut sod pieces from the ground, conveyor belts to transport the pieces, and mechanisms to stack them on a pallet. FireFly’s accused product is the ProSlab 150. Trebro also sells sod harvesters, including the SC2010 Slab. FireFly did not contest priority on the claims. While the preliminary injunction motion was pending, FireFly requested ex parte reexamination of thepatent, based primarily on two patents invented by the same individuals. After ordering reexamination, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office terminated the proceeding because neither of the patents qualified as prior art because they were not considered invented] by “others’ under 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (e) and because each was published within the one year grace period. The district court denied a preliminary injunction. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, noting a record that strongly suggests a likelihood of success on the merits and a likelihood of irreparable harm. The court reasoned that the nature of the market is such that money damages would likely be inadequate and that the fact that Trebro does not presently practice the patent does not detract from its likely irreparable harm.View "Trebro Mfg., Inc. v. Firefly Equip., LLC" on Justia Law
Monsanto Co. v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
Monsanto developed a genetic modification in soybean seeds (Roundup Ready® (RR)), known as the 40-3-2 event (RR trait), which enables soybean plants to tolerate application of glyphosate herbicide to kill weeds. Monsanto owns the patent for the RR trait and granted Pioneer a license to produce and sell seeds containing the traits. After Pioneer became a subsidiary of DuPont, Monsanto and Pioneer entered into an amended license, under which DuPont produced and sold RR trait seed. In 2006, DuPont announced that it had developed a glyphosate-tolerant trait, OGAT, expected to confer tolerance to both glyphosate and acetolactate synthase inhibitor herbicide. Testing indicated that OGAT alone did not provide sufficient glyphosate-tolerance for commercial use. DuPont then combined OGAT with the RR trait; the OGAT/RR stack provided increased yields in field trials. DuPont did not sell any OGAT/RR product, however, and discontinued development. Monsanto sued DuPont for breach of the license and patent infringement. The district court granted partial judgment to Monsanto, holding that the license was unambiguous and did not grant the right to stack non-RR technologies with the licensed” trait, but allowed DuPont to amend its answer to assert reformation counterclaims and defenses. The court ultimately told DuPont to “either voluntarily dismiss these reformation claims or produce … all documents … previously withheld.” DuPont continued litigating its reformation counterclaims and produced previously withheld internal e-mails that showed its awareness that it did not have the right to commercialize the OGAT/RR stack. The court found that DuPont’s position was not rooted in fact, that DuPont made misrepresentations and had perpetrated a fraud on the court, struck DuPont’s reformation defense and counterclaims, and awarded limited attorney fees to Monsanto. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Monsanto Co. v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law
Bowman v. Monsanto Co.
Monsanto invented and patented Roundup Ready soybean seeds, which contain a genetic alteration that allows them to survive exposure to the herbicide glyphosate. It sells the seeds subject to a licensing agreement that permits farmers to plant the purchased seed in only one growing season. Growers may consume or sell the resulting crops, but may not save any of the harvested soybeans for replanting. Bowman purchased Roundup Ready soybean seed for his first crop of each growing season. To reduce costs for his riskier late-season planting, Bowman purchased soybeans intended for consumption; planted them; treated the plants with glyphosate, killing all plants without the Roundup Ready trait; harvested the resulting soybeans that contained that trait; and saved some of these harvested seeds to use in his late-season planting the next season. After discovering this practice, Monsanto sued for patent infringement. Bowman raised the defense of patent exhaustion, which gives the purchaser of a patented article, or any subsequent owner, the right to use or resell that article. The district court rejected Bowman’s defense; the Federal Circuit affirmed. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. Patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without permission. Under the patent exhaustion doctrine, the initial authorized sale terminates all patent rights to the patented item and confers on the purchaser, or any subsequent owner, the right to use or sell the thing, but the doctrine restricts the patentee’s rights only as to the “particular article” sold. It leaves untouched the patentee’s ability to prevent a buyer from making new copies. By planting and harvesting patented seeds, Bowman made additional copies of Monsanto’s patented invention, which falls outside the protections of patent exhaustion. If Bowman were granted an exception, patents on seeds would retain little value. View "Bowman v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law
Bayer CropScience AG v. Dow AgroSciences, LLC
Bayer’s patent concerns genetically modifying plants to confer resistance to a common herbicide (2,4-D) by inserting a particular DNA segment into plant cells, which reproduce to create new cells that contain that gene. Those cells produce an enzyme that catalyzes a biochemical reaction with 2,4-D in which the herbicide is broken down into something harmless to the plant. A plant with the gene survives 2,4-D application while surrounding weeds do not. At the time of the patent application, the inventors had sequenced one gene coding for one enzyme, using a test supposedly capable of finding other, similar genes. In writing the application, they claimed a broad category based on the function of the particular enzyme, defining the category by using a term with established scientific meaning. Years before the patent issued, experiments showed that the term did not apply to the particular enzyme whose gene was sequenced, but Bayer did not change its claim language. When Bayer sued Dow for infringement, Bayer recognized that the term’s established scientific meaning, did not cover the accused product, which was, itself, different from the enzyme whose gene Bayer’s inventors had sequenced. Bayer argued for broad functional claim construction. The district court entered summary judgment of noninfringement, citing particularly the great breadth of the asserted functional construction. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Bayer CropScience AG v. Dow AgroSciences, LLC" on Justia Law
In re: Bimeda Research & Dev. Ltd.
The patent at issue concerns methods for preventing bovine mastitis, the inflammation of udder tissue in cows, and is entitled “Antiinfective free intramammary veterinary composition.” The summary of the invention describes how the composition employs a physical barrier within the teat canal to block introduction of mastitis-causing organisms without requiring use of antiinfectives such as antibiotics. A patent examiner rejected certain claims introduced in the context of ex parte reexamination. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board and Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that substantial evidence supported the Board’s finding that one claim failed the written description requirement because the disclosure did not “describe a formulation excluding a specific species of the anti-infective genus, while permitting others to be present.” View "In re: Bimeda Research & Dev. Ltd." on Justia Law
Organic Seed Growers & Trade Assoc. v. Monsanto Co.
The patented technologies incorporate traits into agricultural crops, conferring resistance to the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup. Farmers using the seeds are able to eliminate weeds by spraying the herbicide over their crops, which would kill conventional seeds. Monsanto sells seed under a license for a single generation of genetically modified seeds. Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto brought 144 infringement suits for unauthorized use of its seed; about 700 other cases settled without litigation. A coalition of farmers, seed sellers, and agricultural organizations that grow, use, or sell conventional seed, concerned that their product could become contaminated by modified seed and that they could be accused of patent infringement, sought declaratory judgments that the patents were invalid, unenforceable, and not infringed. Monsanto referred to its website, which states: It has never been, nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seeds or traits are present in farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit affirmed, stating that Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not take action where crops inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes; the plaintiffs did not allege circumstances placing them beyond the scope of those assurances. There is no justiciable case or controversy. View "Organic Seed Growers & Trade Assoc. v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law