Monsanto won a small victory on Friday, when a federal judge ruled that rival Dupont had violated the terms of a contract in combining Monsanto technology with its own in producing genetically modified seeds.
But the ruling was only a partial victory for Monstanto because it left open the possibility that the St. Louis-based Monsanto may still be on the hook for antitrust violations.
“The Court does not express any opinion on the viability … that the license agreements … are unenforceable as a matter of patent law and on antitrust grounds,” wrote Judge E. Richard Webber of the Eastern District of Missouri, in his ruling. ”[Dupont] may be able to demonstrate that Monsanto may not recover for patent infringement or breach of contract.”
It is the latest development in a long-running war between the nation’s two largest seed manufacturers, who have sued each other in a patent and contract dispute. Dupont has also urged the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division to investigate Monsanto’s licensing practices which, Dupont alleges, shut out competitors and force farmers to pay higher prices for seeds.
At issue is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene, a technology used in corn and soybean seeds that can resist weed killers and is used by the vast majority of farmers.
Monsanto licensed the seed technology to Dupont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. in 2002 in exchange for royalties. Four years later, Dupont introduced its own herbicide-resistant gene and combined it with the Roundup traits it had licensed. Monsanto sued and said the contract did not allow Dupont to combine the two technologies.
Dupont then accused Monsanto of abusing its patent monopoly and using anti-competitive licensing tactics.