Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 31, 2004
Patent law battle continues
Coalition vows to fight Supreme Court's recent ruling against patented life forms
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Despite a Supreme Court of Canada ruling against Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser, the world-wide battle to change patent laws continues, says a coalition of national organizations that intervened in the case.
"The biotech industry has grossly underestimated the people's resolve," said Nadege Adam of the Council of Canadians. "This loss makes it even more important for people around the world to take this battle to their governments."
The coalition, which also includes the National Farmers Union and the Sierra Club of Canada, said it was "devastated" by the court's decision.
Court finds for Monsanto
In its 5-4 ruling handed down May 21, the court upheld a lower-court judgment against Schmeiser that he had infringed on the patent right of chemical giant Monsanto by growing canola implanted with a pesticide-resistant gene developed by the company.
Schmeiser, who had travelled the world over the past five years championing farmers' rights in the production and use of seeds, has said the issue involves the "total control of farmers through patent law."
He insisted that Monsanto's canola seeds blew onto his property from a nearby farm and that they "polluted" his fields.
Church groups, including the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, expressed fears the patenting of staple food crops by corporations would lead to increased hunger for poor farmers and their communities.
But the Supreme Court said that by cultivating a plant containing the patented gene and composed of the patented cells without a licence, Schmeiser "deprived Monsanto of the full enjoyment of its monopoly."
Writing for the minority dissenting opinion on court, however, Justice Louise Arbour, argued that the gene and the process of inserting it into the plant could be patented, but that patent protection cannot be extended to the whole plant.
Monsanto welcomed the court's decision in a news release, saying it had "set a world standard in intellectual property protection."
No court costs
Despite his loss, Schmeiser said the court's ruling that he does not have to pay about $200,000 in costs to the biotechnology giant is a "personal victory."
The Catholic farmer also told reporters in Saskatoon that he and his wife have done all they can. The fight against the patenting of life forms will have to be carried forward in parliaments in Canada and around the world, he said.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association applauded the court's ruling saying it protects the scientific methods used to develop new seed technologies - "benefiting farmers with continued access to leading technologies."
CropLife Canada also welcomed the ruling, saying the case emphasizes the importance of protecting patents and intellectual property. The decision "maintains Canada's reputation as a desirable country for investment opportunities, and a good place to dedicate research and development resources for new innovations and discoveries."