Monsanto wins Pioneer appeal of patent dispute

Monsanto Co has won another round in a long-standing patent dispute with chief rival Pioneer Hi-Bred International, as a federal appellate court on Tuesday upheld Monsanto's ownership of a patent on transgenic corn.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's board of patent appeals that found Monsanto's patent claims were senior to Pioneer's even though Pioneer, a unit of DuPont, filed and was awarded patent protection before Monsanto's application.

The events in the case date back to June 1988, when Pioneer claimed a date of invention for a genetically altered corn. Pioneer was issued a patent in July 2001. Monsanto in June 2005 made a claim for patenting its biotech corn, specifically citing details that the corn contained certain DNA that could help make the plant drought-resistant, disease resistant, and stress tolerant, among other traits. Monsanto claimed a date of invention of January 1990.

Monsanto argued that Pioneer's patent application lacked sufficient disclosures and was ultimately awarded its patent, a move that Pioneer appealed.

The dispute over the corn patent is but one of many areas of dispute involving the top U.S. seed industry rivals as they race to roll out specialty seeds aimed at improving yields of key crops like corn and soybeans.

In a separate case, the two companies are engaged in a bitter battle over Monsanto's Roundup Ready herbicide-tolerant trait technology for soybeans and corn.

DuPont has also been pushing federal regulators to find Monsanto in violation of antitrust laws.

Neither Monsanto nor Pioneer had any immediate comment on the ruling.

The case is Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. v. Monsanto Technology LLC, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 2011-1285.

For Pioneer: Joseph Lucci of Woodcock Washburn.

For Monsanto: Robert Hanson of SNR Denton.

(Published by Reuters - February 28,2012)

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