David and Goliath: 75-Year-Old Farmer Takes Monsanto to Supreme Court


#1

This week, the Supreme Court will take up a classic David-and-Goliath case. On one side, there’s a 75-year-old farmer in Indiana named Vernon Hugh Bowman; on the other, the agribusiness giant Monsanto.

The farmer is fighting the long reach of Monsanto’s patents on seeds — but he’s up against more than just Monsanto. The biotech and computer software industries are taking Monsanto’s side.

Bowman also is battling a historic shift that’s transformed the nation’s seed business over the past 20 years.

Despite all that, Bowman seems remarkably cheerful about his situation. “Confrontation does not take a toll on me!” he says. “You and me can argue about the Bible; we can argue about religion. I’ll pound my fist and we can argue all day, and I won’t lose a bit of sleep at night!”

Farmer’s Fight With Monsanto Reaches The Supreme Court : The Salt : NPR


#2

I hope the Bowman wins. I’m not too optimistic though. I wonder when Sony is going to sue me for royalties if I sell my TV, claiming that all I have is a non-transferrable license. Or better yet, since we may now be able to patent genes, when some company is going to compel me to pay a license fee for living.

We need at the very least to return to this nation’s first copyright and patent laws.


#3

Patent laws are ridiculous these days. I have my doubts Bowman’ll win though, especially since Clarence Thomas has some connections with Monsanto.


#4

This copyright/patent business is a pet of both the left and right. It’s only in serious danger of becoming stronger. Just think of the devastation a public domain Mickey Mouse would cause.


#5

We discussed this a bit last year. It is about to become news again and of course pits the poor little farmer against the big evil corporation but the real story is a bit more complex than that. If it was just a straight patent case Monsanto would win…AS THEY SHOULD.
But it ain’t just that which I think is why the Supes agreed to hear it. I nice short summary of the issues is here:
Farmer Tackling Monsanto’s Seed Policy Gets A Day In Supreme Court : The Salt : NPR


#6

No it surely isn’t straight-forward. A Monsanto win makes patent law more unreasonably far-reaching, simplistically speaking of course. Thanks for the new link.


#7

Your welcome. And a Monsanto loss would mean genetic innovation would no longer be profitable if you lose your patent after the first crop is harvested. I’m betting this ruling will be VERY finely parsed and relate more to the monopolistic aspects rather than the patent aspects. On the one hand, farmers SHOULD be able to plant a non-engineered crop…on the other hand…what are they to do if no such seed is available? Who has the responsibility to see that it is available…or does anyone? Is the end use responsible for a 3rd party sale of supposedly non-engineered seed? Who is…or is anyone?
This is a great example of WHY the Court must rely on Constitutional principles & intent but must also make their own judgements about issues which the founders never anticipated and which could go either way on a close vote that might not break along traditional lib/con lines. It will be interesting reading regardless of the outcome! For the record…I have no opinion on this case except that both parties seem to be injured and deserve a ruling that listens to both their cases.


#8

[quote=“Cam, post:7, topic:38278”]
Your welcome. And a Monsanto loss would mean genetic innovation would no longer be profitable if you lose your patent after the first crop is harvested. I’m betting this ruling will be VERY finely parsed and relate more to the monopolistic aspects rather than the patent aspects. On the one hand, farmers SHOULD be able to plant a non-engineered crop…on the other hand…what are they to do if no such seed is available? Who has the responsibility to see that it is available…or does anyone? Is the end use responsible for a 3rd party sale of supposedly non-engineered seed? Who is…or is anyone?
This is a great example of WHY the Court must rely on Constitutional principles & intent but must also make their own judgements about issues which the founders never anticipated and which could go either way on a close vote that might not break along traditional lib/con lines. It will be interesting reading regardless of the outcome! For the record…I have no opinion on this case except that both parties seem to be injured and deserve a ruling that listens to both their cases.
[/quote]A short patent period solves the problem.

I just learned that a patent is good for about 20 years, with probably a warehouse full of regulations dictating minutiae. The original was 14 years. It’s not as horrid as I had believed. I had believed it to be as absurd as copyrights. I think it should be much shorter. I’m not convinced it really drives progress, and saying one guy owns an idea (cuz that’s what patents do even if no one can supposedly own an idea) even if another guy comes up with it independently is rather arbitrary.


#9

All IP law is illegitimate. They basically make laws retricting how people can use their property (by property I mean things that exist in reality) to protect other people’s ideas. The thing about ideas is that they are not a scarce resource. One person can share an idea with another and now two people have that idea. One person can not share their car with another leaving two people with a car. There is only one physical car in reality. The same with books, music, art, media etc, a copy of these leaves the original person’s property intact. Therefore it is not theft.

It takes the force of government that socializes the enforcement of these phony IP laws to make viable for companies. Without the socialization of IP Law enforcement it would become too costly for an individual company to go after these people.

The Case Against IP: A Concise Guide - Stephan Kinsella - Mises Daily

Libertarianism on IP

Given the libertarian understanding of property rights, as sketched above, it is clear that the institutions of patent and copyright are simply indefensible. Patents grant rights in “inventions” — useful machines, or processes. A patent is a grant by the state that permits the patentee to use the state’s court system to prohibit others from using their own property in certain ways — from reconfiguring their property according to a certain pattern or design described in the patent, or from using their property (including their own bodies) in a certain sequence of steps described in the patent.

Copyrights pertain to “original works,” such as books, articles, movies, and computer programs. A copyright is a grant by the state that permits the copyright holder to prevent others from using their own property — e.g., ink and paper — in certain ways.

In both cases, the state is assigning to A a right to control B’s property — A can tell B not to do certain things with B’s property. Since ownership is the right to control, IP grants to A co-ownership of B’s property. This clearly cannot be justified under libertarian principles. B already owns his property. With respect to him, A is a latecomer. B is the one who appropriated the property, not A. It is too late for A to homestead B’s property — B already did that. The resource is no longer unowned.

Granting A ownership rights in B’s property is quite obviously incompatible with basic libertarian principles. It is nothing more than redistribution of wealth. IP is thus unlibertarian and unjustified. (See Against Intellectual Property, pp. 43–45, 55–56.)

Why, then, is this a contested issue? Why do some libertarians still assert the legitimacy of IP rights?


#10

I almost agree :wink:


#11

Yea IP is one of those issues for libertarians. Kinsella has stated in the past that he believes that Lock was wrong by stating people own their labor which causes confusion.

I’ve noted before a central error of arguments for intellectual property (IP) is the idea that creation is an independent source of rights (see Libertarian Creationism; Rand on IP, Owning “Values”, and “Rearrangement Rights”; Locke, Smith, Marx and the Labor Theory of Value; this comment to “Trademark and Fraud”; Elaborations on Randian IP; Objectivists on IP). As I noted in “Intellectual Property and Libertarianism“:

… creation is an important means of increasing wealth. As Hoppe has observed,

One can acquire and increase wealth either through homesteading, production and contractual exchange, or by expropriating and exploiting homesteaders, producers, or contractual exchangers. There are no other ways.[26]
While production or creation may be a means of gaining “wealth,” it is not an independent source of ownership or rights. Production is not the creation of new matter; it is the transformation of things from one form to another — the transformation of things someone already owns, either the producer or someone else.

Using your labor and creativity to transform your property into more valuable finished products gives you greater wealth, but not additional property rights. (If you transform someone else’s property, he owns the resulting transformed thing, even if it is now more valuable.) So the idea that you own anything you create is a confused one that does not justify IP.
There are two ways to acquire rights to property: homesteading unowned property; or contractually acquiring title to property held by a previous owner. It is wealth and value that is created or produced, by rearranging already-owned scarce resources. But no new property emerges from an act of production, from labor, from creation: new wealth is created, by making existing property more valuable. By being careful here about the distinction between “creating value” and acquiring property rights, by avoiding overuse of the creation and labor metaphors, we can avoid the mistake of thinking that we have rights in whatever we find, whatever we buy, and whatever we create, as if this latter is an independent, third category. We have rights to the value we create only as a by-product of owning the resource that we have made more valuable by rearranging it. And once we see that this third category does not exist, we see that the creationist case for IP evaporates. Creation never was a source of ownership at all.

Or, as I wrote in Against Intellectual Property,

One reason for the undue stress placed on creation as the source of property rights may be the focus by some on labor as the means to homestead unowned resources. This is manifest in the argument that one homesteads unowned property with which one mixes one’s labor because one “owns” one’s labor. However, as Palmer correctly points out, “occupancy, not labor, is the act by which external things become property.” By focusing on first occupancy, rather than on labor, as the key to homesteading, there is no need to place creation as the fount of property rights, as Objectivists and others do. Instead, property rights must be recognized in first-comers (or their contractual transferees) in order to avoid the omnipresent problem of conflict over scarce resources. Creation itself is neither necessary nor sufficient to gain rights in unowned resources. Further, there is no need to maintain the strange view that one “owns” one’s labor in order to own things one first occupies. Labor is a type of action, and action is not ownable; rather, it is the way that some tangible things (e.g., bodies) act in the world.

Locke on IP; Mises, Rothbard, and Rand on Creation, Production, and “Rearranging”