The Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 19 in "Bowman v. Monsanto Co.," a landmark court battle that has pitted farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman against the international agriculture corporation over the issue of seed patents. In anticipation, the Center for Food Safety and the Save Our Seeds campaigning groups released a report Tuesday detailing similar cases, titled "Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers."
According to the report, Monsanto has alleged seed patent infringement in 144 lawsuits against 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in at least 27 U.S. states as of January of 2013. Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta together hold 53 percent of the global commercial seed market, which the report says has led to price increases for seeds -- between 1995 and 2011, the average cost of planting one acre of soybeans rose 325 percent and corn seed prices went up 259 percent.
Seed patents are a type of biological patent, which are legally protected inventions or discoveries in biology. In the case of Monsanto and other major corporations, that often means patents on genetically modified seeds. In recent years, these and other companies have taken farmers to court for alleged seed patent infringement -- meaning they planted seeds without paying for them.
The issue gets murky when you consider that if a farmer plants legally purchased seeds, then replanted seeds culled from the resulting crop, he is committing what some companies consider a crime.