A panel of judges from a Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Monday ruled that organic seed organizations which challenge Monsanto's seed patents may not sue the company because it has already made "binding assurances" that it will not take legal action against growers whose crops contain trace amounts of the company's patented genes.
The judges affirmed the a previous decision from the Southern District of New York that the plaintiffs in the case Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto did not present a sufficient controversy to warrant judgment by the courts.
The plaintiff farmers and seed companies first brought the lawsuit against Monsanto in 2011, when they filed a complaint asking for a declaration that the company's patents on genetically engineered seed were invalid or unenforceable.
The reason for the suit, Organic Seed plaintiffs said, is because they could be faced with patent infringement suits due to inadvertent contamination of neighboring fields through various means including wind and insects.
However, according to its Farmers & Patents commitment document, Monsanto has already committed to avoiding lawsuits when unintended contamination is believed to be at fault.
"We do not exercise our patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seeds or traits are present in a farmer's fields as a result of inadvertent means," the document says.
Though the claim was dismissed, the plaintiffs' attorney, Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation, said the decision is a partial victory.
"The decision today means that the farmers did have the right to bring the suit to protect themselves, but now that Monsanto has bound itself to not suing the plaintiffs, the Court of Appeals believes the suit should not move forward," Ravicher said.
The attorney said his plaintiffs were forced to take expensive precautions prior to Monsanto's declaration.