, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
Life changed when Roundup Ready soybeans came to the farm. Now, the first generation trait faces retirement, on what will be its 18th
Monsanto Company has announced that the trait will be available royalty free to universities and others who want to use it when the patent expires at the close of the 2014 planting season.
Beginning with the 2015 planting season, the technology will be publicly available. That also means farmers will be able to save RR1 patented varieties for planting on their own farms after the patent expires. "It's important to know that farmers cannot save seed until after the 2014 planting season and farmers will need to check with their seed suppliers regarding varieties developed and owned by other companies,” says Ben Kampelman, Monsanto communications lead for soybeans.
The Roundup Ready soybean trait was introduced by Monsanto in 1996 and rapidly adopted. In addition to selling the RR1 trait in its own seed brands, Monsanto licensed it to approximately 200 independent seed companies to integrate and sell in their own products.
The company has been transitioning its soybean seed products to a new, higher yielding technology called Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield (RR2Y), which it also licenses to independent seed companies. Future soybean traits developed by Monsanto will use the RR2Y trait as a platform.
Monsanto's disclosure of its plans for the RR1 technology comes at a time when the company is being scrutinized for patent rights. The Roundup Ready genetic trait is found in more than 90% of the U.S. soybean crop, including seed sold by competitors.
Allegations that the biotech trait is controlled by a single supplier prompted the Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue a civil investigative demand (CID) requesting information on its soybean traits business.
A CID is a formal legal request that allows the Justice Department to gather documents and provide information for an investigation. Scott Partridge, Monsanto's Chief Deputy General Counsel, says the company has voluntarily cooperated with regulators to address questions about its business and the broader agriculture industry over the last several years, and will continue to do so.
"We respect the thorough regulatory process. We believe our business practices are fair, pro-competitive and in compliance with the law,” says Partridge.
"Given the pace and scale of agriculture biotechnology adoption, as well as the expiration of the Roundup Ready soybean patents in 2014, we understand why regulators would want to know more about competition in modern agriculture and how products are commercialized and used,” Partridge says. "We believe an objective review will show our business and our industry to be competitive.”
A turf war over seed competitiveness has been escalating over the past nine months. Last year, Monsanto sued DuPont for patent infringement related to their licensing agreement over the development of Optimum GAT. DuPont has countersued claiming Monsanto is using anti-competitive tactics.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are gearing up to do a complete review of the entire agriculture industry, including the seed and trait industry. The first meeting, March 12, 2010, in Ankeny, Iowa, focuses on seed technology, market integration, market transparency and buyer power. Read more information on those hearings