A U.S. District Court has ruled that Monsanto has the right to protect its Bt cotton technology from patent infringements, specifically regarding the use of saved seed. On Sept. 13, a jury ordered a Louisiana cotton producer and others within his farming operation to pay a little over $2 million in damages to the companies for planting 4,000 acres in Bollgard cotton in 1997, using saved seed.

A week before, Judge James D. Kirk (Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division) granted Monsanto's motion for summary judgment, on the company's assertion that its patent for the Bollgard technology was valid and that the defendants did not have an expressed or applied license to plant the variety containing the technology.

He also ruled that the defendant had infringed on the certificate of protection that Delta and Pine Land holds under the Plant Variety Protection Act. He ruled the two companies had given proper notice that the cotton seed in question was protected and was clearly noted on the bags of seed.

The jury was left with deciding whether or not the cotton producer's conduct in the patent infringement was willful, leading to the Sept. 13 decision. The court ordered the producer to pay a "reasonable royalty" of $401 per acre for the infringement of Monsanto's patent. They also awarded $100 per acre for infringement of Delta and Pine Land's certificate of protection.

This was the first patent infringement case involving genetically-enhanced cottonseed to be settled in court. "It's always in our best interests to settle these before we ever get to court," said Brett Begemann, vice president of U.S. markets for Monsanto. "In this particular case, all our efforts to settle prior to getting there were unsuccessful."

"Part of this was maintaining the integrity of this particular technology," said Ann Shackelford, vice president of corporate services for Delta and Pine Land Co. "When they planted this without a license, they didn't adhere to any of the requirements of the licensing. There was no refuge. The technology was at risk and so was Monsanto's compliance with EPA."