The Seed Patent Case: Bowman v. Monsanto

Document Type


Publication Date



On May 13, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bowman v. Monsanto, an extremely important case about the scope of patent rights in both promoting new biotech research and ensuring that the fruits of these labors are secured to the firms that sell and license this new technology. In her opinion for a unanimous Court, Justice Kagan stated that Monsanto's patent rights in genetically engineered soybean seeds were not "exhausted" by the first sale of these seeds to a farmer. In this case, Bowman replanted follow-on generations of seeds naturally produced by the plants that grew from first-generation seeds first purchased from Monsanto. Monsanto expressly restricted this type of "re-use" of the genetically engineered seeds, because it maintained that it could not recoup the hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D investments required to create this technology without such restrictions. The Court agreed, and while it seemed to establish a clear rule that will spur the ongoing creation and distribution of genetically engineered inventions in the green and biotech revolutions, there remain important questions about the scope of licensing rights in patented technology generally and the scope of patent protection over forms of life. This panel of experts will discuss the Bowman decision, its role in the ongoing policy debates over patented innovation, and the implications it has for future innovation.