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Kaptur Bill Would Protect Seed Patents, Farmers

An Ohio lawmaker says her legislation could provide a middle ground for companies such as Monsanto Co. that want to protect their patented seed from infringement and farmers who want to save and plant genetically engineered seed without fear of a conglomerate suing them.

But Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a senior Democratic appropriator, has had little luck moving the bill she first introduced in 2004. She filed the legislation (HR 193) again in January, making this the fourth Congress in which she has offered it.

Her legislation would make the Agriculture Department the go-between for companies and farmers. The department would set and collect royalty fees from growers who register to plant first-generation patented seeds or their progeny saved from prior harvests. Additional duties would be placed on the product of patented seed imported from countries where royalty fees don’t exist or are lower than in the United States. Farmers who registered and paid fees could not be sued.

“We would protect patent rights, but USDA would establish fees.” Kaptur said last week. “Companies deserve a fair return, not an exorbitant return.”

She said she would expect the fees to be lower than those now charged by Monsanto and other companies. “USDA would be the market-maker,” Kaptur said, an idea unlikely to gain traction in a pro-business House.

Her legislation was inspired by complaints from Midwestern farmers who discovered on a trip to Latin America that their counterparts were not paying the technology fees on patented genetically modified seeds.

Kaptur’s bill attracted the notice of Christopher M. Holman, a University of Missouri law professor who has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Monsanto’s case against soybean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Feb. 19.

Holman does not endorse Kaptur’s proposal but wrote that the bill shows “Congress is well aware of the issues presented by the petitioner and his amici, and will no doubt address them if such action is deemed necessary.”

Kaptur said she is also concerned about Monsanto’s argument that its control of seed remains in force for the duration of its patents because the engineered trait is present in each new generation of seed.

“Monsanto did not invent the soybean. God did,” she said. “I’m not completely on board with the idea that any company should control to that extent the reproduction of a food crop.”

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