Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Agriculture Law
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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

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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

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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

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Plaintiff’s patent discloses an “easy clean dual wall deck” for a rotary cutter. Defendants manufacture rotary cutters that are pulled behind a tractor and used to mow wide swaths of ground. The accused rotary cutters can “rough cut” fields after a harvest or clear weeds and brush along roadsides. Plaintiff’s patent addresses a problem encountered by rotary cutters. Prior art cutters had structural components such as gearboxes and deck bracings mounted either on top of or underneath the cutter deck; the patent discloses a dual-wall deck that encloses the structural components in a torsionally-strong box, leaving smooth surfaces on the top and bottom of the deck for easing cleaning. The district court entered summary judgment of noninfringement. The Federal Circuit vacated, affirming the construction of “rotary cutter deck” and the determination that the terms “substantially planar” and “easily washed off” do not render the asserted claims invalid under 35 U.S.C. 112, but holding that the district court erroneously construed the term “into engagement with” to require direct contact. View "Deere & Co. v. Bush Hog, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Whoever “invents or discovers and asexually re-produces any distinct and new variety of plant, including cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state, may obtain a patent therefor,” 35 U.S.C. 161. In 1980, Beineke noticed two white oak trees with superior genetic traits, such as excellent timber quality and strong central stem tendency. The trees were in the yard of another and about 105-118 years old. Beineke planted acorns from each. An examiner rejected patent applications because Beineke did not provide evidence that the trees were in a cultivated state. The Board affirmed, finding that the land on which the trees grew had existed as a wooded pasture until a house was constructed around 1930, after the trees began growing; there was no evidence that human activity contributed to the creation of the trees. The Federal Circuit affirmed, without addressing cultivation. Congress recognized that the relevant distinction was not between living and inanimate things, but between products of nature, whether living or not, and human-made inventions.” The trees were not “newly found seedlings,” and do not fall within the broadened protection of the 1954 amendments. View "In re Beineke" on Justia Law

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In 1978, Hages acquired a ranch in Nevada occupying approximately 7,000 acres of private land and approximately 752,000 acres of federal lands under grazing permits. Their predecessors had acquired water rights now located on federal lands, 43 U.S.C. 661. Hages had disputes with the government concerning release of non-indigenous elk onto federal land for which Hages had grazing permits, unauthorized grazing by Hages’ cattle, and fence and ditch maintenance. After a series of incidents, in 1991, Hages filed suit alleging takings under 43 U.S.C. 1752(g), and breach of contract. After almost 20 years, the Claims Court awarded compensation for regulatory taking of water rights; physical taking of water rights; and range improvements. The court awarded pre-judgment interest for the takings, but not for the range improvements. The Federal Circuit vacated in part. The regulatory takings claim and 43 U.S.C. 1752 claim are not ripe. To the extent the claim for physical taking relies on fences constructed 1981-1982, it is untimely. To the extent the physical takings claim relies on fences constructed 1988-1990, there is no evidence that water was taken that Hages could have put to beneficial use. Hages are not entitled to pre-judgment interest for range improvements because Hages failed to identify a cognizable property interest. View "Hage v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed an examining attorney's refusal to register the trademark XCEED, in standard character form, for agricultural seed, citing the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1052(d). A previously-registered word and design mark for agricultural seeds consisted of the characters X-Seed in stylized form. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding substantial evidence that the XCEED mark would likely cause confusion with the X-Seed mark. View "In re Viterra" on Justia Law

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The Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences declared an interference between the claims of a patent belonging to Pioneer and those of a pending application owned by Monsanto. The claims concern transgenic corn. After the Board concluded that Monsanto was not time-barred under 35 U.S.C. 135(b)(1) and that its claims were entitled to seniority, Pioneer stipulated to judgment against it and the Board canceled Pioneer's claims. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Pioneer Hi-Bred Int'l, Inc. v. Monsanto Tech., LLC" on Justia Law

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The 605 and 247 patents cover aspects of genetically modified soybeans. The patent-holder sued one of its licensed seed producers, alleging infringement rather than breach of the agreement between the two. The district found infringement and awarded about $84,000. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that patent rights were exhausted with respect to all of the soybean seeds that are present in grain elevators as undifferentiated commodity. The court also rejected an argument that plaintiff could not recover pre-complaint damages because it did not provide actual notice and did not mark or require growers to mark second-generation seeds in compliance with 35 U.S.C. 287(a). Defendant had actual notice.

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Plaintiffs, California grape growers who purchased grapevines covered by the USDA's patents, brought this action to challenge the validity and enforceability of the USDA's patents on three varieties of grapes, as well as the conduct of the California Table Grape Commission (Commission) and the USDA in licensing and enforcing the patents. The court held that the district court correctly held that the USDA was a necessary party to plaintiffs' declaratory judgement claims based on the Patent Act, 35 U.S.C. 1 et seq. The court also held that the waiver of sovereign immunity in section 702 of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq., was broad enough to allow plaintiffs to pursue equitable relief against the USDA on its patent law claims. The court further held that plaintiffs' claims were sufficient to overcome any presumption of regularity that could apply to a certain USDA employee who was one of the co-inventors of each of the three varieties of grapes. The court finally held that because plaintiffs failed to point to anything other than the issuance of a patent for the Sweet Scarlet grapes that would provide a plausible basis for finding that Sweet Scarlet grapes form a relevant antitrust market, the court upheld the district court's decision dismissing plaintiffs' antitrust claim.