Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Monsanto vs. Vernon Bowman’s Farm

by THOMAS L. KNAPP

In 1860, pro-slavery apologist Edmund Ruffin forcefully argued in support of a proposition: “[T]he greater profits of slaves as property, compared to other investments for industrial operations.”

I’ve no doubt that IG Farben functionaries, touring their shiny new Buna Works complex in 1942 occupied Poland, quelled any twinges of conscience with an identical observation respecting the use of Jewish slave labor from nearby Auschwitz.

Has humanity morally evolved since the US Civil War? Since the Holocaust? If oral argument before the  Supreme Court of the United States in Bowman v. Monsanto is any indicator, well, no.

“Without the ability to limit reproduction of soybeans containing this patented trait [resistance to a particular pesticide],” says IG Farb … er, Monsanto … attorney Seth P. Waxman, “Monsanto could not have commercialized its invention, and never would have produced what is, by now, the most popular agricultural technology in America …”

Chief Justice Edmund Ruf … er, John G. Roberts … seemingly agrees: “Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?”

Like Ruffin and IG Farben, Roberts and Monsanto argue the issue without reference to its moral dimension.

I willingly stipulate to the truth of Monsanto’s claim that its profits would be greatly enhanced were the state to grant it ownership and control of Vernon Bowman’s farm, of Vernon Bowman’s crops, and of Vernon Bowman himself (and for that matter of every farm and farmer on God’s green earth). That’s exactly what Monsanto is asking the state to do, on the basis of precisely that argument.

Keep one thing firmly in focus here: Vernon Bowman had no contractual obligation whatsoever to Monsanto with respect to the seeds he purchased, planted, and saved the progeny of in this case. He’d previously bought other seeds under contracts forbidding such use, and he’d honored those contracts, but these particular seeds were not so encumbered.

If those past contracts cloud the issue for you, keep in mind that this case reprises the Canadian Supreme Court’s 2004 award of “license fees” to Monsanto at the expense of Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser, for reproducing seed bearing “their” patented gene — seed which had come into his possession via natural cross-farm contamination (wind and pollen happen, folks).

Monsanto’s entire case against Vernon Bowman — as with Percy Schmeiser — is that their profits will be negatively affected if they’e not empowered to dictate what Vernon Bowman does on his own land and with his own stuff. The relief they’re requesting is that the state should therefore so empower them.

This is not a case of a “bad” or “over-broad” or “improperly applied” patent. By its very nature, “intellectual property” always represents an assertion on the part of one person of ownership title to the minds, bodies and property of others.

Whether it’s Monsanto’s genetic “patent” claim, or the “copyright” demand of a novelist that once he’s strung some words together in a certain order nobody else may do likewise without coughing up, or Ron Paul’s plea to the United Nations to seize an Internet domain name he wants, “intellectual property” is, simply put, an attempt to turn the world into one big antebellum plantation, with the state as indispensable overseer.

Fortunately, most variants of the fiction of “intellectual property” are quickly falling apart under the pressure of advanced copying and sharing technologies, and the state as we know it is on its last legs too. Neither will be missed.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail