August 23, 2012 10:02:02 AM
OXFORD -- A federal judge in Mississippi has heard arguments from the Monsanto Co., which is seeking $27 million in damages from a Tupelo farm supply business and its owners in an ongoing dispute over saving and selling its patented seeds.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports that U.S. District Judge Michael Mills made no decision after hearing Wednesday from attorneys for St. Louis-based Monsanto and businessmen Mitchell and Eddie Scruggs, owners of Scruggs Farm Supply.
A federal appeals court in Washington in 2006 upheld a ruling that the Scruggses violated Monsanto's licensing requirements and its patent for use of the company's seeds.
Saving Monsanto's seeds, genetically engineered to kill bugs and resist weed sprays, violates provisions of the company's contracts with farmers, the company claimed.
Over the past several years, Monsanto has filed legal actions across the country over what farmers say is arguably the age-old farming practice of saving seeds.
Monsanto's patented soybean and cotton seeds have been genetically engineered to resist its Roundup brand herbicide. When Roundup is sprayed on a field, the product will kill the weeds without harming the crop.
Monsanto has a policy that prohibits farmers from saving or reusing the seeds once the crop is grown.
Farmers contend there is no patent on the seeds, which are products of nature.
Monsanto sued the Scruggses in 2001. A federal judge in Mississippi ruled against the Scruggses in 2004. The Scruggses also lost an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.
In 2010, a Mississippi federal jury said Monsanto was wronged and the Scruggses owed the company $8.9 million. Monsanto has asked Mills for triple damages in the case.
On Wednesday, Mills also heard motions for a new trial.
Monsanto counsel Joseph Orlet of St. Louis told Mills, "Mr. Scruggs made a fateful choice in 1995-1996 not to license and use the technology as did many area growers. He elected to use it without obtaining a license."
Orlet urged Mills to order the "enhanced damages," saying Scruggs' alleged reckless willfulness in committing the patent infringements raised the bar for the higher amount.
Jim Waide of Tupelo, one of the attorneys for the Scruggses, said the increased money damages were nothing short of the mega-company's goal of driving the Scruggses out of business.