The seed company has retained a Canadian firm to conduct random on-farm surveys
A business press article last week outlining Pioneer's intention to protect its intellectual property through on-field audits caused a stir in the farming community. But the news should come as no surprise to farmers who have been using patented seed products that are protected as intellectual property.
The Bloomberg article focused on how seed company planned to use "dozens of former policemen" to enforce its patents. It downplayed the fact that farmers agree to random audits once they buy the company's patented seeds. And it only mentioned deep in the story the benefits of patented seed products.
Seed companies reinvest seed revenue in research and development to continue the flow of new products and services to farmers, says Randy Schlatter, DuPont Pioneer intellectual property program senior manager. The mutually beneficial practice, he says, has resulted in everything from drought-resistant seed corn to bulk seed delivery, field mapping, seed treatments and agronomic support.
The Bloomberg article focused primarily on how the company will monitor U.S. farmers’ use of DuPont Pioneer soybean varieties containing the Monsanto Roundup Ready (RR1) trait, which reaches patent expiration in 2015. This is only one of many patents the company holds.
"DuPont Pioneer has over 225 existing patents to protect innovation across its product line," says Schlatter. "Ultimately, growers benefit from innovative products that bring higher yields. In order to make sure we are able to continue to invest in our research and development pipeline to bring these new patents to the market, we will protect our intellectual property. Progressive growers understand the benefits."
While the RR1 trait expires in the near future, the other intellectual property that exists in Pioneer soybean varieties still exist. "If you take a look at one of our soybean varieties, 93Y23, for example, you will see a variety that has multiple patents that will still be in effect after 2015," Schlatter adds.
That means farmers who save and then replant their DuPont Pioneer soybean seed may be violating such patents and, as a result, breaking the law.
Theft of intellectual property is a growing problem that impacts corporations and individuals on an international scale, according to the Global Intellectual Property Center, a principal institution of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Center reports that such theft costs domestic companies between $200 billion and $250 billion a year in lost revenues.
DuPont Pioneer has proactively told farmers it intends to protect the intellectual property in its patented soybean varieties. Farm Journal reported on this topic in its October 2012 issue.
The company is informing soybean growers now about its intent to protect its patents, Schlatter says, with the expectation that the RR1 trait expiration with be a "non-event" for U.S. growers. That was the case for soybean growers in Canada who faced the same scenario last year.
"Once we explained to Canadian growers why we wouldn’t allow them to brown bag our varieties, it (patent expiration) was a non-issue," he says.
DuPont Pioneer has retained the services of Canada-based Agro Protection (AP) to conduct random, on-farm checks of customers’ fields to monitor their compliance. Farmers agree to participate in a potential audit when they purchase their soybean seed. DuPont Pioneer worked with AP for this same purpose in Canada.
Prior to an on-farm visit, an AP employee calls the farmer to set up an in-person discussion and an on-site field check. Schlatter explains the process: "He’s going to ask the farmer for his land records and seed purchase records to ensure those match up. AP will then do a physical inspection of the farmer’s fields and take plant samples that the company will test to ensure they match the producer’s paperwork."
Schlatter says the company intends to give farmers who are out of compliance every opportunity to get back into compliance. The ultimate objective, he says, is to retain DuPont Pioneer customers.
"Our objective is to not sue our customers; that does us no good," Schlatter says. "We want to work with our customers honestly and fairly."
In 2011, DuPont has invested $930 million in research and development efforts in nutrition and agriculture, including corn and soybean seed research. Part of that investment was used to double the company’s soybean research programs over the past five years. Schlatter says the company plans to double that amount again in the next five years.