Biotech giant wins Supreme Court battle

Supreme Court rules biotech giant Monsanto can patent a plant; Sask. farmer Percy Schmeiser loses appeal

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled against a Saskatchewan farmer Friday, saying since U.S. biotechnology giant Monsanto holds a patent on a gene in its canola seed, it can control the use of the plant.

In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld Monsanto's patent over its Roundup Ready canola plant gene, ruling Percy Schmeiser infringed on the company's patent by growing the plant without a licence.

The company inserts a gene into a canola plant to make it pesticide-resistant. Monsanto holds patents over the gene and the insertion process, and argued the patent should extend to control of the plant.

The court agreed, writing: "By cultivating a plant containing the patented gene and composed of the patented cells without license, [the Schmeisers] thus deprived Monsanto of the full enjoyment of its monopoly."

Justice Louise Arbour, who wrote the minority dissenting opinion, argued that the gene and the process could be patented, but that patent protection cannot be extended to the whole plant.

Schmeiser argued the canola seed blew onto his property from a nearby farm. He has said the plants "polluted" his fields.

In a news release, Monsanto said it welcomed the decision, adding the Supreme Court has "set a world standard in intellectual property protection."

In what Schmeiser called a "personal victory," the Supreme Court ruled he does not have to pay roughly $200,000 in court costs and damages to Monsanto.

He said his battle is now over, but believes the debate over patenting life forms must continue.

"I and my wife have done everything possible to take it this far," said Schmeiser. "It will have to be carried forward, whether it's through the Parliament of Canada or other countries of the world."

Schmeiser's supporters argue the patent could limit scientific and medical research, which routinely manipulates genes.

Nadege Adams, a member of the consumer group the Council of Canadians said, "The implication of this decision will affect us all. From the poor farmer in India, worried about his ability to save seeds, to Canadian concerns about big companies appropriating our bio-diversity."

Schmeiser had already lost his case in lower courts.

In 2002, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld an earlier ruling that found Schmeiser guilty of illegally planting the Monsanto canola on his property. He was ordered to pay $175,000 in damages, plus court costs.

The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled against patenting a higher life form in the case of the Harvard mouse. The court ruled the mouse was a higher life form and could not be patented.