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Soybean Farmers: Keep Tabs on Trait Patent Expiration

Monsanto's Roundup Ready 1 (RR1) soybean trait patent does not expire until 2014, but the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) urges the state's farmers to explore now what the change could mean for their operations.

"Ultimately, RR1 trait patent expiration means that soybean farmers will no longer have to pay trait royalties to Monsanto to purchase and plant RR1 seed.  But farmers should be aware that other protected intellectual property may be in some soybean seed with RR1, so even when the trait patent expires, seed could be protected by a variety patent on the germplasm," says Ron Moore, ISA chairman and soybean farmer from Roseville, IL.  "Farmers will always need to confirm with their seed companies whether a variety patent is in place."

For the same reason, farmers who want to save and plant any RR1 trait seed varieties after 2014 should check with their seed companies to ensure no other patent protection exists.  Monsanto has already announced they will not enforce variety patents on Monsanto-developed varieties containing the RR1 trait when farmers plant such saved seed varieties on their own farm.

"Farmers may be able to buy generic soybean varieties with only the RR1 trait for 2015, but Monsanto's Asgrow brand soybeans and other Monsanto-owned seed brands will move to 100% Roundup Ready 2 Yield technology," says Moore.  "ISA is working with Monsanto and other seed suppliers to ensure a clear path for generic RR1 versions after patent expiration."

Moore urges farmers to also begin to think about what traits they may want in the future and communicate those interests to seed companies. The timeline for product development and regulatory approval in the seed industry is seven to 10 years, and developers need certainty for generic entrants in securing an ultimate path to market successful products.

"If you want continued access to RR1 soybean varieties, other varieties that contain the RR1 trait or that contain additional modes of herbicide tolerance, you should make your wishes known," says Moore.  "Both public and private seed researchers may be able to create generic RR1 stand-alone varieties, but need to know whether demand for RR1 trait seed will continue."

Unlike pharmaceuticals, ag biotechnology may not have processes in place regarding generic product development by the time of patent expiration.  The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has initiated a process to develop a framework for all biotech traits post-patent.  ISA leaders will continue to collaborate with BIO on post-patent processes, and support efforts by the American Soybean Association and others to work with technology providers, regulators and others to come up with ways to best address competition and innovation issues.

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