VALDOSTA, Ga. (CN) - Monsanto may recover more than $300,000 in damages from a farmer who planted seeds derived from the manufacturer's genetically modified cotton without authorization, a federal judge ruled.
Monsanto, a leading manufacturer of agricultural chemicals and products, developed genetically improved cotton that tolerates certain herbicides such as Roundup. The company patented its biotechnology for developing genetically modified cotton, which is sold under trade names such as Roundup Ready Flex.
In a 2014 federal complaint, Monsanto claimed it spent hundreds of millions of dollars for more than a decade to develop a technology for seeds that tolerate glyphosate-based herbicides and also resist cotton-attacking worms.
The technology has been widely adopted by farmers resulting in decreased production costs and reduced management time, according to the complaint.
Monsanto sells the modified cotton seeds to farmers and competitors under limited use license agreements, which require buyers to use the seeds for planting a commercial crop in a single growing season. Planters are prohibited from saving harvested seeds to plant a subsequent crop and from selling or transferring saved seeds to third parties for planting.
In the complaint, Monsanto claimed that Christopher Ponder, a farmer based in Tifton, Ga., intentionally planted Monsanto's genetically improved cotton seeds during three consecutive crop years. Moreover, Monsanto claimed, Ponder did not buy the patented seeds from an authorized dealer but collected them without authorization, and never licensed or paid for the technology.
Monsanto Company and Monsanto Technology claimed that Ponder and his farming business Chris Ponder Farms violated their patent rights and sought to deprive them of royalty fees.
"From October 2012 through August 2013, Monsanto investigated alleged delinting and planting of saved cotton seed containing Monsanto's patented
biotechnologies in and around Tift County, [Ga.]," Monsanto claimed in the complaint. "After investigators collected sufficient evidence of seed saving and planting, the investigators interviewed numerous farmers regarding their alleged infringing farming activities. All of those farmers, with one exception, have agreed to meet with Monsanto and resolve their alleged infringement of Monsanto's patent rights. Chris Ponder is the exception. To Monsanto's current knowledge, he is the only farmer saving patented seed unlawfully, and who has refused to negotiate a settlement."
U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal ruled that Ponder intentionally infringed on Monsanto's patents by planting the seeds without authorization, by trying to conceal the unauthorized planting, and by selling Monsanto's seeds to other growers for planting.
Ponder and his business must pay $360,000 in damages to Monsanto, according to the March 4 consent order.
Additionally, Ponder cannot use, buy, sell or transfer any of Monsanto's patented biotechnologies, the order states.
Attorneys for the parties did not respond to requests for comment.
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