Articles Posted in Agriculture Law

by
In 1999, Native American farmers sued, alleging that the USDA had discriminated against them with respect to farm loans and other benefits. The court certified a class, including LaBatte, a farmer and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe. Under a settlement, the government would provide a $680 million compensation fund. The Track A claims process was limited to claimants seeking standard payments of $50,000. Track A did not require proof of discrimination. Under Track B, a claimant could seek up to $250,000 by establishing that his treatment by USDA was "less favorable than that accorded a specifically identified, similarly situated white farmer(s),” which could be established “by a credible sworn statement based on personal knowledge by an individual who is not a member of the Claimant’s family.” A "Neutral" would review the record without a hearing; there was no appeal of the decision. LaBatte's Track B claim identified two individuals who had personal knowledge of the USDA’s treatment of similarly-situated white farmers. Both worked for the government's Bureau of Indian Affairs. Before LaBatte could finalize their declarations, the government directed the two not to sign the declarations. The Neutral denied LaBatte’s claim. The Claims Court affirmed the dismissal of LaBatte’s appeal, acknowledging that it had jurisdiction over breach of settlement claims, but concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over LaBatte’s case because LaBatte had, in the Track B process, waived his right to judicial review to challenge the breach of the agreement. The Federal Circuit reversed. There is no language in the agreement that suggests that breach of the agreement would not give rise to a new cause of action. View "LaBatte v. United States" on Justia Law

by
XY’s patents relate to the sorting of X- and Y-chromosome-bearing sperm cells, for selective breeding purposes. Trans Ova provides services related to embryo transfer and in-vitro fertilization for cattle. XY and Trans Ova entered into a five-year licensing agreement in 2004 under which Trans Ova was authorized to use XY’s technology, subject to automatic renewal unless Trans Ova was in material breach. In 2007, Inguran acquired XY and sent a letter purporting to terminate the Agreement because of alleged breaches. For several years, the parties negotiated but failed to resolve their disputes. Trans Ova continued to make royalty payments to XY, which were declined. XY alleges that it became aware of further breaches, including underpayment of royalties and development of improvements to XY’s technology without disclosure of such improvements to XY. XY sued for patent infringement and breach of contract. Trans Ova counterclaimed, alleging patent invalidity, breach of contract, and antitrust violations. The district court granted XY summary judgment on the antitrust counterclaims. A jury found breaches of contract by both parties; that Trans Ova failed to prove that the asserted patent claims were invalid and willfully infringed the asserted claims; and XY was entitled to patent infringement damages. The court denied all of Trans Ova’s requested relief and granted XY an ongoing royalty. The Federal Circuit affirmed except the ongoing royalty rate, which it remanded for recalculation. View "XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, L.C." on Justia Law

by
In the 1970s, the Department of the Interior’s Fish and WildlifeService began entering into cooperative farming agreements with farmers to manage public lands in the National Wildlife Refuge System for the conservation of migratory birds and wildlife, including at the Umatilla and McNary Refuges in the Pacific Northwest. Most CFAs share identical terms; the Service permits a “cooperator” to farm public land with specific crops that benefit wildlife. There is no payment. Cooperators typically retain 75 percent of the crop yield for their efforts. Hymas sought a cooperator contract. The Service selected other cooperators, but did not use formal procurement procedures or solicit full and open competition. It relied upon its system that gave preference to previous cooperators with a successful record of farming designated areas within the refuge. Hymas did not live adjacent to the refuges and had not previously farmed refuge lands. The Claims Court concluded that it had subject matter jurisdiction under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(b)(1), to resolve his bid protest and held that the Service violated various federal procurement laws and the Administrative Procedure Act. The Federal Circuit vacated with instructions to dismiss, holding that the CFAs are not subject to Tucker Act review. View "Hymas v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Between April 23 and June 1, 2008, there were 57 reported cases of salmonellosis. The FDA, federal and state agencies, and food industry began an investigation to determine the source of contamination. On June 3, 2008, the FDA issued a press release alerting consumers that the salmonella outbreak “appears to be linked” to the consumption of “raw red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes” and that “the source of the contaminated tomatoes may be limited to a single grower or packer or tomatoes from a specific geographic area.” Later, a spokesman stated the FDA suspected the contaminated tomatoes had been shipped from Florida or Mexico, and red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes were “incriminated with the outbreak.” A third press release announced that “fresh tomatoes now available in the domestic market are not associated with the current outbreak.” Although the link between the salmonella outbreak and the their tomatoes was eventually disproved, tomato producers alleged that all or almost all of the value of the perishable tomatoes was destroyed due to a decrease in market demand. The Federal Circuit affirmed dismissal on grounds that the warning of a possible link between the tomatoes and an outbreak did not effect a regulatory taking. View "DiMare Fresh, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The USDA, owner of the patents on the table grape varieties Scarlet Royal and Autumn King, has exclusively licensed the patents to the California Table Grape Commission, which sublicenses to California grape growers and collects royalties that are shared by the Commission and the USDA. The licensing agreements require the growers to pay a royalty on grapes produced and prohibit the growers from propagating the plants. Growers who purchased grapevines covered by the patents, signed license agreements, and paid the fee, challenged the validity and enforceability of the patents, and the conduct of the Commission and the USDA in licensing and enforcing the patents. They argued that the grape varieties were in public use more than one year before the applications for both patents were filed, and that the patents are invalid under 35 U.S.C. 102(b). After the Federal Circuit held that the Administrative Procedure Act waives sovereign immunity for purposes of such an action against the USDA, the district court held that the actions of two individuals who obtained samples of the plants in an unauthorized manner and planted them in their own fields did not constitute an invalidating public use of the plant varieties. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Delano Farms Co. v. Cal. Table Grape Comm'n" on Justia Law

by
Monsanto developed a genetic modification in soybean seeds (Roundup Ready® (RR)), known as the 40-3-2 event (RR trait), which enables soybean plants to tolerate application of glyphosate herbicide to kill weeds. Monsanto owns the patent for the RR trait and granted Pioneer a license to produce and sell seeds containing the traits. After Pioneer became a subsidiary of DuPont, Monsanto and Pioneer entered into an amended license, under which DuPont produced and sold RR trait seed. In 2006, DuPont announced that it had developed a glyphosate-tolerant trait, OGAT, expected to confer tolerance to both glyphosate and acetolactate synthase inhibitor herbicide. Testing indicated that OGAT alone did not provide sufficient glyphosate-tolerance for commercial use. DuPont then combined OGAT with the RR trait; the OGAT/RR stack provided increased yields in field trials. DuPont did not sell any OGAT/RR product, however, and discontinued development. Monsanto sued DuPont for breach of the license and patent infringement. The district court granted partial judgment to Monsanto, holding that the license was unambiguous and did not grant the right to stack non-RR technologies with the licensed” trait, but allowed DuPont to amend its answer to assert reformation counterclaims and defenses. The court ultimately told DuPont to “either voluntarily dismiss these reformation claims or produce … all documents … previously withheld.” DuPont continued litigating its reformation counterclaims and produced previously withheld internal e-mails that showed its awareness that it did not have the right to commercialize the OGAT/RR stack. The court found that DuPont’s position was not rooted in fact, that DuPont made misrepresentations and had perpetrated a fraud on the court, struck DuPont’s reformation defense and counterclaims, and awarded limited attorney fees to Monsanto. The Federal Circuit affirmed.View "Monsanto Co. v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law

by
Trebro’s patents involve sod harvesters: vehicles with knives that cut sod pieces from the ground, conveyor belts to transport the pieces, and mechanisms to stack them on a pallet. FireFly’s accused product is the ProSlab 150. Trebro also sells sod harvesters, including the SC2010 Slab. FireFly did not contest priority on the claims. While the preliminary injunction motion was pending, FireFly requested ex parte reexamination of thepatent, based primarily on two patents invented by the same individuals. After ordering reexamination, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office terminated the proceeding because neither of the patents qualified as prior art because they were not considered invented] by “others’ under 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (e) and because each was published within the one year grace period. The district court denied a preliminary injunction. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, noting a record that strongly suggests a likelihood of success on the merits and a likelihood of irreparable harm. The court reasoned that the nature of the market is such that money damages would likely be inadequate and that the fact that Trebro does not presently practice the patent does not detract from its likely irreparable harm. View "Trebro Mfg., Inc. v. Firefly Equip., LLC" on Justia Law

by
Bayer’s patent concerns genetically modifying plants to confer resistance to a common herbicide (2,4-D) by inserting a particular DNA segment into plant cells, which reproduce to create new cells that contain that gene. Those cells produce an enzyme that catalyzes a biochemical reaction with 2,4-D in which the herbicide is broken down into something harmless to the plant. A plant with the gene survives 2,4-D application while surrounding weeds do not. At the time of the patent application, the inventors had sequenced one gene coding for one enzyme, using a test supposedly capable of finding other, similar genes. In writing the application, they claimed a broad category based on the function of the particular enzyme, defining the category by using a term with established scientific meaning. Years before the patent issued, experiments showed that the term did not apply to the particular enzyme whose gene was sequenced, but Bayer did not change its claim language. When Bayer sued Dow for infringement, Bayer recognized that the term’s established scientific meaning, did not cover the accused product, which was, itself, different from the enzyme whose gene Bayer’s inventors had sequenced. Bayer argued for broad functional claim construction. The district court entered summary judgment of noninfringement, citing particularly the great breadth of the asserted functional construction. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Bayer CropScience AG v. Dow AgroSciences, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The patent at issue concerns methods for preventing bovine mastitis, the inflammation of udder tissue in cows, and is entitled “Antiinfective free intramammary veterinary composition.” The summary of the invention describes how the composition employs a physical barrier within the teat canal to block introduction of mastitis-causing organisms without requiring use of antiinfectives such as antibiotics. A patent examiner rejected certain claims introduced in the context of ex parte reexamination. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board and Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that substantial evidence supported the Board’s finding that one claim failed the written description requirement because the disclosure did not “describe[] a formulation excluding a specific species of the anti-infective genus, while permitting others to be present.” View "In re: Bimeda Research & Dev. Ltd." on Justia Law

by
The patented technologies incorporate traits into agricultural crops, conferring resistance to the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup. Farmers using the seeds are able to eliminate weeds by spraying the herbicide over their crops, which would kill conventional seeds. Monsanto sells seed under a license for a single generation of genetically modified seeds. Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto brought 144 infringement suits for unauthorized use of its seed; about 700 other cases settled without litigation. A coalition of farmers, seed sellers, and agricultural organizations that grow, use, or sell conventional seed, concerned that their product could become contaminated by modified seed and that they could be accused of patent infringement, sought declaratory judgments that the patents were invalid, unenforceable, and not infringed. Monsanto referred to its website, which states: It has never been, nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seeds or traits are present in farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit affirmed, stating that Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not take action where crops inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes; the plaintiffs did not allege circumstances placing them beyond the scope of those assurances. There is no justiciable case or controversy. View "Organic Seed Growers & Trade Assoc. v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law