The Iowa State University Research Foundation is suing Monsanto Company for patent infringement. The case, filed in federal district court in Des Moines on May 21, claims that the St. Louis-based corporation has developed and sold soybeans with the same low-fat characteristics as soybeans developed and patented by two ISU professors.
The lawsuit alleges Monsanto is selling its Vistive brand low-linolenic soybean varieties "without any license or authority from (the foundation) and now licenses Iowa State's technology to others."
The lawsuit says ISU professors Walter Fehr and Earl Hammond have been awarded several U.S. patents relating to soybeans with low-linolenic acid content. University officials are asking for an injunction against Monsanto's infringement of the patents, monetary damages and a declaratory judgment that there has been no settlement between the two entities.
Demand growing for low-lin soybeans
Monsanto introduced its Vistive soybeans to farmers for planting in 2005. Oil from the low-lin soybeans is being increasingly used by food manufacturers, restaurants and other food processors because of its healthier attributes compared to regular hydrogenated soybean oil.
Ken Kirkland, executive director of the ISU research foundation, says officials of the ISU organization had "reached a stalemate in our attempt to resolve a patent dispute with Monsanto over low-linolenic soybeans. We remain hopeful that we will be able to work out our differences. This has been communicated to Monsanto."
A high-ranking ISU official says ISU researchers examined DNA from Monsanto's Vistive beans and found it to be identical to the low-linolenic soybean patented by ISU. The official says the foundation brought the lawsuit after talks with Monsanto broke down.
ISU says no agreement was reached
ISU researchers began developing the low-inolenic acid soybeans and methods to produce these varieties as early as 1968. Court documents also say the ISU research foundation owns at least eight U.S. patents covering the products, breeding and manufacturing methods.
The lawsuit says ISU officials confronted Monsanto this past February about the patent claim and that at a subsequent meeting "settlement terms were discussed, but no agreement was reached." The lawsuit says the research foundation told Monsanto that any settlement terms would have to be cleared with Fehr.
After Monsanto was contacted again by IAU, the company's representatives sent a letter to ISU saying Monsanto "stands ready to perform under the agreement reached with the university at our meeting of February 28." However, ISU officials contend that no agreement was reached.