Seattle Lawyer Up Against Monsanto

By Tom Bacon

The dream of many lawyers is to argue a case before the highest court in the land.  A 39-year old Seattle lawyer named Mark P. Walters will get that rare chance this month. His client, an elderly farmer, is taking on a giant agribusiness firm in a fight over patented seeds.

Walters is representing 75-year old Vernon Hugh Bowman who farms in southern Indiana. The case turns on federal patent law, Walters' specialty. A couple of years ago, Bowman bought some soybean seeds from a local grain elevator for a second planting.

But the Monsanto Corporation, which markets genetically modified seeds resistant to Roundup herbicide, found out that some of its patented seeds were mixed in with generic seeds and sold cheaply to Bowman. The company sued him and demanded more than 84-thousand dollars.
Bowman bowed his back and retorted that he had followed Monsanto's restrictions on the first planting, but he drew the line at paying more for the bulk commodity seeds that were all mixed together in a sort of seed grab bag.

The case was tailor made for Walters. He had earned his bachelor's degree at WSU in biology, and then worked through the University of Idaho law school in the university's seed lab. Walters argues that Monsanto's patent right was exhausted with the first seed sale.  Walters said that a decision for Monsanto will give patent holders undue control in the distribution and use of their products, hurt competition and raise consumers prices.

Just about every farmer in the northwest will be following the high court case with high interest.
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