On February 5, 2014, Monsanto Company and Monsanto Technology, LLC (“Monsanto”) filed a complaint in the Middle District of Georgia asserting willful patent infringement against a farmer (Christopher Ponder and
Chris Ponder Farms, LLC – “Ponder”) for using and planting infringing cotton
seed derived from patented cotton seed without authorization from Monsanto.
Monsanto’s complaint relates the company’s investment of
hundreds of millions of dollars for more than a decade to develop patented
technology for seeds that tolerate the herbicide glyphosate (effective, but
environmentally friendly) and to resist leaf and boll-feeding worm
species. The technology has been widely
adopted by farmers resulting in decreased production costs and reduced
management time. To monetize its
technology, Monsanto uses a license agreement that allows licensees to grow a
single commercial crop but not to preserve or later use the seeds produced from
Monsanto asserts its technologically developed seeds result
in cotton that resists the following cotton attacking worms:
The complaint asserts that Ponder never purchased Monsanto
seed or agreed to license the Monsanto technology. Nevertheless, he allegedly collected patented cotton
seed without authorization from Monsanto.
Monsanto alleges that Ponder delinted seed for other farmers and traded
the delinted seed for chemicals used in the delinting process. After an 11-month investigation in Tift
County, Georgia, spanning 2012 into 2013, Monsanto arranged for meetings with
all the farmers implicated by the investigation, except for Ponder who refused
to meet or negotiate.
Monsanto notes in its complaint that “The saving and
replanting of patented cotton seed is an involved process requiring active, not
accidental, participation and direction by the farmer." Monsanto explains that the cotton plant
produces a cotton boll containing cotton seed that farmers typically take to a
cotton gin for processing in modules.
The cotton gin separates the cotton seed from the boll and often keeps
the seed as payment for ginning the cotton. While the cotton lint from the boll
is the primary product and is used to create fabric, the cotton seed is a
secondary product and can be used to produce cotton seed oil.
In order to recover cotton seed for replanting, the farmer
must direct the gin operator to capture specific seed from the harvest by
identifying the modules from which the seed is desired. The recovered seed still contains a small
amount of lint resulting in the nomenclature “fuzzy seed.” Before this seed can be used for planting in
modern planting equipment, the seed must be delinted. Monsanto’s complaint alleges that Ponder collected,
delinted, and then resold patented seeds for a significantly lower price. In addition, Monsanto accuses Ponder of delinting the seeds brought to him by other
For the patent claims, Monsanto seeks an injunction,
interest and costs, and damages (for which Monsanto asks trebling). Monsanto also seeks to recover for conversion
and unjust enrichment.
The case is Monsanto Company and Monsanto Technology, LLC
v. Christopher Ponder and Chris Ponder Farms, LLC, No. 1:14-cv-00013-HL, in
the Middle District of Georgia, Valdosta Division, assigned to U.S. District
Judge Hugh Lawson.
 Image from Entomology 402 File Crop Insects at https://insects.tamu.edu/students/undergrad/emto402/Cotton_files/Cotton_pests_key_bollworm.html
 Image from Managing Insects on Cotton, Jack S. Bacheler,
Entomology Extension Specialist, https://ipm.ncsu.edu/cotton/insectcorner/photos/images/Beet_armyworm_larvae_feeding.jpg
Labels: injunction, Judge Lawson, Middle District of Georgia, willful patent infringement