Friday, February 08, 2002

Percy Schmeiser is a canola farmer in Saskatchewan. Someone in his neighborhood grew canola which contained a gene patented by Monsanto. Pollen from this canola blew through the air and pollenated some of Mr. Schmeiser's canola, thus incorporating Monsanto-patented genes into his crop. The Monsanto brown shirts (who apparently have more police power in Canada than the RCMP) obtained evidence from canola planted in Mr. Schmeiser's fields that show his plants contained Monsanto-patented genes, so after Monsanto threats against him were unsuccessful (the general approach is to agree to drop the whole thing if the farmer agrees to pay a fee and keep the matter quiet), they sued him for infringing their patents. The Federal Court of Canada heard the case. Monsanto won. The asininity of this decision can be seen in the reductio ad absurdum conclusion it leads to - Monsanto can now own all the farms near places where its patented seeds are planted. The pollen will of necessity blow around, contaminating the seeds of farmers nearby. Monsanto now has carte blanche to sue those farmers for amounts over the value of their farms. While this nay be considered to be a typical patent case, the real problem arises because this shouldn't have been treated as merely an intellectual property case. Monsanto meddled with genetics, and the pollen from its seeds contaminated the seeds of farmers, in many cases ruining the results of a lifetime (or lifetimes) of selective breeding. Monsanto negligently allowed its genes to become incorporated into the seeds of Canadian farmers, because it knew or ought to have known that pollen will blow by the wind a certain distance, and should have ensured that its seeds weren't planted next to other farmers' seeds. The fact that it has a patent doesn't mean that it has the right to contaminate genetic lines owned by other people. In normal cases, normal drifting of pollen will cause no damages to those neighbors whose crops are affected by it. However, because Monsanto's seeds are genetically modified, they are worth far less on the market (Europeans are too smart to buy it). The remedy obviously is that Monsanto should have massive damages awarded against it, and all its corporate assets should be sold to start to pay for the damage it has caused. This is so outrageous a corporate action that the shortfall should be paid by the directors and officers of Monsanto. (It would be interesting if Monsanto's corporate records could be subpoenaed to see if they have discussed this two-part corporate strategy: 1) get the genetically modified genes in all canola, so purchasers have no choice but to buy modified canola, thus ending consumer resistance to it; and 2) force all farmers to plant their seeds by threatening to sue them for patent infringement unless they agree to buy Monsanto seed.) If Ford negligently built a car that crashed into you, leaving the 'Ford' trademark permanently embossed on your ass, would Ford have a right to sue you for trademark infringement? The whole case is completely ridiculous and impracticable, and is proof of the stupidity of allowing patents on life.

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