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PATENTS & REGULATION: Montana (USA) plans regulations for investigations on ”patented crop theft”





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TITLE:   PATENTED CROP BATTLE MIGHT BE ENDING

SOURCE:  The Billings Gazette, USA

AUTHOR:  Tom Lutey

URL:     http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/article_08135ee2-ffae-590f-a4bf-074b5d586f1f.html

DATE:    01.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Farm groups and scientists before the Montana State Senate on Tuesday said they?d reached an agreement for investigating patented crop theft, which has become a significant issue as more state acres are seeded with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. [...] On Tuesday, Sen. Donald Steinbeisser, R-Sidney, presented a bill to the Senate Agriculture Committee to require seed companies to get permission before accessing private farmland for sample gathering when illegal plantings are suspected."

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PATENTED CROP BATTLE MIGHT BE ENDING

A six-year battle over how farmers are investigated for illegally growing patented crops might be ending.

Farm groups and scientists before the Montana State Senate on Tuesday said they?d reached an agreement for investigating patented crop theft, which has become a significant issue as more state acres are seeded with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

GMO proponents say such crops are revolutionary because they make farming easier and more affordable, but technology within them is also wholly owned by their creators, who receive payment for their technology from contracted farmers. Those companies are often prepared to sue anyone caught growing GMOs without a contract.

A divide quickly opened between pro- and anti-GMO forces six years ago as the Legislature began crafting rules governing lawsuits and evidence gathering related to patented crops grown illegally.

Other states? fights over illegal possession of patented crops have financially devastated farmers entangled in sticky lawsuits over ownership rights.

On Tuesday, Sen. Donald Steinbeisser, R-Sidney, presented a bill to the Senate Agriculture Committee to require seed companies to get permission before accessing private farmland for sample gathering when illegal plantings are suspected.

?It is a clear process and must be followed when an intellectual property owner is protecting his property,? Steinbeisser told the committee.

When permission isn?t granted, the samples could still be gathered, but only with a court order.

The sample gathering would have to take place with both the company and the farmer having a chance to be present. Testing would be done at an independent third-party laboratory.

The state Department of Agriculture would be the designated third party for sample gathering and testing when requested. The department would also be required to be present throughout the sample-gathering process at the request of the farmer or the company.

The party requesting the testing would have to pay for it. And the parties would have to try to mitigate their cases privately before going to court.

The proposals were big changes from previous bills that some farmers said unfairly put the burden on them, including earlier language that suggested that lawsuits take place in the home court of the company.

Farmers balked at the last condition because it meant potentially fighting a lawsuit in a court several states away.

The new rules directed all lawsuits to the district court in which a suspected rogue crop was raised.

Farmers, including several from the sugar beet industry, where nearly all crops come from genetically modified seeds patented by their creator, spoke in favor of the bill.

Scientists were pleased to have a Montana road map for protecting their technology.

?All of our varieties pay royalties back to us. Its how we maintain our business,? said Bob Hodgekiss with Syngenta Agripro. The company has for 30 years created patented wheat seed for Montana through standard breeding. ?When it comes time to protect what we believe is our property, we make sure before we even approach somebody that we got it pretty thoroughly investigated.?

The Senate Agriculture Committee took the bill under advisement.