Percy Schmeiser vs Monsanto
Supreme Court Grapples with Arguments on Patenting of Genes and Plants
DENNIS BUECKERT / Canadian Press 20jan04
OTTAWA-Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser deliberately planted Roundup Ready canola on his land in 1997 thereby infringing Monsanto's patent on a gene in the plant, the biotech giant told Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Robert Hughes, representing Monsanto, dismissed Schmeiser's claims that the Roundup Ready canola sprouted on his land by accident, carried by the wind or spilled by passing truck. "This case, we submit, is a rather simple case of an infringement of a patent by a knowing use of the patented claimed material," said Hughes.
But Schmeiser's lawyer, Terry Zakreski, said it doesn't matter how the canola took root on Schmeiser's land because plants are not patentable.
The Supreme Court has already ruled, in the case of the Harvard mouse, that higher life forms cannot be patented in Canada.
Zakreski said the plants are higher life forms, like mice, with the ability to grow and reproduce and wind up in places where they are not wanted.
"The Patent Act wasn't intended to cover these types of inventions," he said.
Hughes said Monsanto does not claim a patent on the canola plant, but rather on the gene that was inserted to make the plant resistant to Roundup, a popular herbicide.
Hughes conceded the patented gene is found in every cell of the plant itself, from the roots to the leaves.
The outcome of the case is likely to have major implications for the future of Canada's biotechnology industry, for farming practices, and even in seemingly unrelated fields like health care.
Sara Blake, appearing for the Ontario government, said gene patents could impede research into genetic disease and drive up costs for genetic medical tests.
Monsanto's supporters in the case, including the Canadian Canola Growers Association, say strong patent rights are vital to encourage research.
Schmeiser's case has attracted global attention, and he is paying legal costs with donations from around the world. On Tuesday, anti-biotech farmers and scientists rallied at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India to mobilize support for Schmeiser.
They say that recognition of gene patents in plants could prevent farmers from saving their own seeds from one year to the next, reduce biodiversity and concentrate power in the hands of biotech companies.
Schmeiser, 72, was sued after Monsanto agents in 1997 found biotech canola growing in his Saskatchewan fields.
Lower courts have found that Schmeiser probably did plant Roundup Ready canola on his land, despite his claims that it appeared by accident. The more important issue before the Supreme Court is the validity and scope of genetic patents.
- Detailed account of Percy's story - Heartbreak in the Heartland: The True Cost of Genetically Engineered Crops
- Contribute to Percy Schmeiser's legal defense: http://www.percyschmeiser.com