In the United States, it can take 10 years and a $100 million investment to develop a single seed trait cleared for full seed production. Intellectual property patent rights give seed companies the security and incentive to invest these millions. We can’t recycle seeds from the plants we’ve already grown. Biotech seeds may be self-regenerating products, but they’re also protected by patent.

Just as it’s against the law to pirate DVDs, computer software, and digital-music files, it’s against the law to pirate patented seeds. This principle is so broadly accepted that dozens of organizations have called on the Supreme Court to protect the integrity of patented seeds, including farm and technology groups as well as a coalition of top universities.

At the oral arguments last week, Chief Justice John Roberts made the point plainly: “Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?”

Justices of differing political persuasions appeared to agree with this sentiment: Mr. Bowman’s lawyer, reported the New York Times, received a “hostile reception.”

Experts say that it can be a mistake to read too much into oral arguments. Yet I’m hopeful that justices will issue a ruling that preserves a system of scientific and agricultural innovation–and supports the millions of “little guy” farmers whose livelihoods depends on planting the best seeds.

Mark Jackson grows soybeans and corn on a family farm in SE Iowa.  He has traveled extensively across the U.S. and around the world to learn more about soybean production.  Mark is a volunteer member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farm Network (

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