Clarifying the Controversy
According to Kevin Collins, JD, patent law expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, “the legal controversy in Bowman arises from the convergence of the unusual technological capacity of patented soybeans to self-replicate when planted and the patent doctrine of exhaustion.” What does this mean?
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said the exhaustion doctrine did not apply to the way Bowman used the seeds. That is, the exhaustion doctrine has a limit.
From the New York Times:
“Under the patent exhaustion doctrine, Bowman could resell the patented soybeans he purchased from the grain elevator; so too he could consume the beans himself or feed them to his animals,” she wrote. “But the exhaustion doctrine does not enable Bowman to make additional patented soybeans without Monsanto’s permission,” she added, and went on to say that “that is precisely what Bowman did.”
Justice Kagan said that allowing Mr. Bowman’s tactic would destroy the value of Monsanto’s patent. “The exhaustion doctrine is limited to the ‘particular item’ sold,” she wrote, “to avoid just such a mismatch between invention and reward.”
You can learn more about this case from the New York Times article quoted here and from the technical explanation provided by Kevin Collins. This case was originally tried backin February. See this article for reporting on specific court room arguments.