Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against DuPont Co. and its Pioneer Hi-Bred unit over a way to develop new seeds more quickly and with fewer failures.
Pioneer’s laser-assisted seed selection infringes Monsanto patents covering a method known as seed chipping, a way of testing the genetics of a large batch of seeds while maintaining their ability to be planted, Monsanto said.
The new complaint, filed yesterday in federal court in St. Louis, expands the legal battle between the two largest seed companies. Pioneer sued Monsanto in 2011 over ways to produce corn seed and a 2009 patent suit Monsanto filed against Pioneer over herbicide-resistant corn and soybean seeds is scheduled for trial next month.
“We believe this latest suit by Monsanto is without merit, and we will vigorously defend our position in court,” Dan Turner, a spokesman for DuPont, said in an e-mailed statement. “Monsanto continues to use litigation in an attempt to limit Pioneer from being an effective competitor. This tactic has not worked in previous cases, and it will not work in this matter.”
Seed chipping enables automated sampling of material from seeds without harming their viability. Researchers can cull individual seeds to choose ones that have desired traits and reject others. The process shaves months off the development cycle and eliminates waste, according to the complaint.
The inventions covered by the nine Monsanto patents “are revolutionizing plant breeding by allowing faster and more precise development of better crops and by allowing insight and understanding of plant performance, genetics, DNA linkage and thus improved agronomics and yield,” Monsanto said in the complaint.
Monsanto said it first demonstrated its seed-chipper system in August 2007 in Illinois. Within months of the company’s patent applications being made public, Pioneer filed applications “which include crude, hastily hand-drawn figures and purport to describe and claim subject matter disclosed in Monsanto’s seed-chipper patent applications,” St. Louis-based Monsanto said in the complaint.
DuPont, based in Wilmington, Delaware, is building a technology hub for its seed business in Beijing, employing about 50 researchers who will be using Monsanto technology, and is using the process to develop Pioneer’s Optimum Aquamax hybrids that are used in areas with limited water, Monsanto said.
Monsanto is seeking a court order to block further use of its inventions, and wants cash compensation for the unauthorized copying.
DuPont reported in April that seed sales rose 20 percent to $3.2 billion. Monsanto said sales of seeds and genetic licenses in the second quarter jumped 15 percent.
U.S. farm net income may be $91.7 billion this year, the second-highest total on record, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Corn is the biggest U.S. crop, valued at $76.5 billion in 2011, followed by soybeans at $35.8 billion, government figures show.
U.S. plantings may reach about 94 million acres (38 million hectares) this spring, Morgan Stanley said in a report dated yesterday, citing an estimate from Michael Cordonnier, the president of forecaster Soybean & Corn Advisor Inc. Farmers planted 91.9 million acres last year, according to the USDA.
The U.S. is the world’s largest corn grower and exporter, accounting for about 44 percent of the world’s corn trade.
The case is Monsanto Co. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., 12cv1090, U.S. District Court for the District of Missouri, St. Louis.