Monsanto Co. (MON) and DuPont Co. (DD), the world’s largest seed companies, agreed to drop their respective antitrust and soybean patent lawsuits and enter into licensing agreements for making genetically modified crops.
Monsanto will ask the St. Louis federal court to dismiss its claim that DuPont infringed patents for Roundup Ready soybeans, setting aside a $1 billion jury award, the companies said today in a joint statement. DuPont will ask the court to dismiss its claim that Monsanto uses monopoly power to stifle innovation.
The agreement follows recent legal victories by St. Louis- based Monsanto over its smaller rival in the $34 billion seed market. A U.S. jury in August ordered DuPont to pay Monsanto for infringing seed patents, and the U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general dropped probes late last year into industry antitrust concerns raised by DuPont.
“We have spent a lot of time and a lot of energy fighting each other,” Scott Partridge, a Monsanto vice president, said in a telephone interview today. “There came a point after a bunch of confrontations where their interests and our interests aligned.”
In the agreements announced today, DuPont’s Pioneer seed unit will license the newest versions of Monsanto soybeans engineered to tolerate Roundup and another weed killer and make a series of royalty payments to Monsanto totaling $1.75 billion through 2023, the companies said.
Monsanto gains access to DuPont patents for crop-disease resistance and a corn defoliation technique.
“It’s very positive for Monsanto,” because the pact removes legal uncertainty and sets a timetable for royalty payments, Kelly Wiesbrock, who helps manage $1.3 billion at Harvest Capital Strategies LLC in San Francisco, said today in a telephone interview.
DuPont plans to begin selling soybeans containing Monsanto’s latest weed-tolerance technology, branded as Roundup Ready 2 Yield, starting in 2014, DuPont Pioneer President Paul Schickler said today on a conference call with analysts. DuPont expects to begin selling Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, which add tolerance to the weed killer dicamba, in 2015 pending regulatory approvals, he said.
DuPont has been the only major seed company that has shunned the new Roundup Ready trait in favor of the original technology, which loses U.S. patent protection next year. DuPont will study whether the technology improves yields during trials this year, Schickler said.
“They’ve thrown in the towel and said, ‘We want this new technology,’” Jason Dahl, a New York-based fund manager who helps manage $3 billion for Victory Capital Management Inc., said by telephone today. “It’s a big plus for Monsanto.”
Royalty payments to Monsanto will be $346 million from 2014 to 2015, $456 million in the next two years, and per-unit payments starting in 2018 that will total at least $950 million, DuPont said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
DuPont, the largest U.S. chemical maker by market value, also gets rights to Monsanto regulatory data for off-patent traits used to make crops that tolerate herbicides and kill insects, allowing it to add the technologies to its corn and soybean lines.
$1 Billion Verdict
The jury in St. Louis awarded the $1 billion verdict on Aug. 1 after finding DuPont willfully infringed Monsanto’s patent on original Roundup Ready soybeans by adding the technology to seeds with a similar DuPont trait known as GAT. Today’s agreement won’t prompt a revival of the abandoned GAT project, Schickler said.
U.S. District Judge Richard Webber was scheduled to oversee a second trial in October on DuPont claims that Monsanto uses monopoly power to stifle innovation, restricting use of Roundup Ready while making it difficult for other companies to develop a competing trait.
During the course of the infringement trial, Webber said DuPont “knowingly perpetrated a fraud against the court” and sanctioned the company for lying about its right to use Monsanto technology. Webber provided the sanctions order to the Justice Department in February 2012.
‘Hammer and Tong’
DuPont said in the regulatory filing today that the two companies agreed to present the fraud sanctions to a higher court. Partridge said Monsanto will continue to argue that Webber was correct in sanctioning DuPont.
“We are going to fight them hammer and tong,” Partridge said.
DuPont also agreed to drop its suit over a defoliation technique that increases the vigor of corn seed, providing Monsanto access to relevant patents, Schickler said today.
Cross licensing technologies is common when settling lawsuits over patents for creating genetically modified crops. Monsanto between 2005 and 2008 settled seed patent cases with Dow Chemical Co., Syngenta AG (SYNN) and Bayer AG (BAYN) by agreeing to cross license genetic traits.
The cases are Monsanto Co. v. E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co., 09cv686, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis) and Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. v. Monsanto Co., 11cv497, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa (Des Moines).
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