MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Exhausting Patent Rights Without a "Sale"

In LifeScan Scotland, LTD v. Shasta Technologies, LLC, the Federal Circuit clarified the ability of a patnet holder to enforce patent rights in a product it has given away, but not "sold."  Defendant Shasta Technologies appealed from a decision of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granting LifeScan Scotland a preliminary injunction.  The injunction prohibits Shasta from making, using, or selling blood glucose test strips. The District Court found that Shasta's strips likely indirectly infringed LifeScan's U.S. Patent No. 7,250,105 ("the '105 patent"). The '105 patent does not cover any corresponding test strips. Rather, the technology described in the '105 patent relates to an apparatus for measuring glucose. LifeScan manufactures a system called "OneTouch Ultra" blood glucose monitoring system, which uses this technology. LifeScan distributes 60% of its patented meters through health care providers, who in turn provide the meters to diabetic individuals for free.

   

Shasta does not sell or make blood glucose meters, but instead competes with LifeScan in the market for test strips. Shasta's "GenStrip" test strips are designed to work with LifeScan's meters. LifeScan's suit alleged that Shasta's GenStrip test strips indirectly infringed the '105 patent.  In turn Shasta claimed the sale and distribution of LifeScan's meters exhausted its rights under the method patent because the meters substantially embody the invention.

   

The District Court agreed with LifeScan, granting it a preliminary injunction. The District Court reasoned that patent exhaustion applies only to a "sale" where the patentee received "consideration" in exchange for the patented product. The district court concluded that because LifeScan did not receive consideration when it distributed the patented product, patent exhaustion does not apply.

   

On appeal, the Federal Circuit relied on Quanta Computer, Inc. v. LG Electronics, Inc., which holds that a method claim is exhausted by the sale of a product that "substantially embodies" the invention.  The appellate court also held, as a matter of first impression, that "[w]here a patentee unconditionally parts with ownership of an article, it cannot later complain that the approach that it chose results in an inadequate reward and that therefore ordinary principles of patent exhaustion should not apply."   As a result, LifeScan could not circumvent the application of patent exhaustion principles by distributing a product embodying the patent for free, and reversed the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction.

   

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Supreme Court Rejects Patent Exhaustion Defense for Patented Bean Replanting

The Supreme Court has handed down its much anticipated decision in Bowman v. Monsanto Co., holding that the defense of patent exhaustion does not apply to the practice of planting and harvesting patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder's permission.

The case centers on the Roundup Ready gene, which confers resistance to glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup. Monsanto owns U.S. Patent Nos. 5,352,605 and RE39,247E, which cover the Roundup Ready gene, as well as seeds incorporating the gene. The Roundup Ready gene stably integrated into the genomic material of soybeans sold by Monsanto, which means that once the seeds are planted, the plants that grow from those seeds and any seeds produced by that plant also have the Roundup Ready gene.

Monsanto markets both the Roundup Ready seeds and the Roundup herbicide to farmers. However, the seeds are sold subject to a licensing agreement that permits a grower to plant the purchased seed in only one growing season-the grower in prohibited from saving any of the harvested seed for replanting in a subsequent growing season. Growers are permitted under the agreement to consume the seeds or to sell the seeds as a commodity for eventual consumption. Due to the popularity of Roundup Ready seeds, a significant proportion of commodity seeds are Roundup Ready.

Vernon Bowman purchased Roundup Ready seeds from a licensed seller each year for his first planting of the growing season. Bowman also made a second planting each season, for which he used seed that was not purchased from a licensed seller. Instead, Bowman purchased commodity seed, planted the seed, treated the plants with glyphosphate herbicide, and harvested the seed from the surviving plants, which he then used for second plantings in subsequent growing seasons. Because these seeds survived the glyphosphate herbicide treatment, they necessarily possessed the Roundup Ready gene. Ultimately, Bowman harvested eight crops through this system of growing and replanting, effectively generating a homogenous Roundup Ready source of seed that was not purchased from Monsanto.

Monsanto sued Bowman in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleging that Bowman's harvesting and replanting of Roundup Ready seeds infringed its patents. In his defense, Bowman asserted that the doctrine of patent exhaustion prevented Monsanto from controlling his use of the seeds because they were the subject of a prior authorized sale. The trial court rejected Bowman's patent exhaustion defense, finding for Monsanto. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed, concluding that the patent exhaustion defense was not available to Bowman because he had created newly infringing articles through the harvesting and replanting-Bowman had replicated Monsanto's patented technology by planting the seeds and thereby creating newly infringing plants and seeds.

The Supreme Court, like the district court and the Federal Circuit, concluded that Bowman could not rely on the doctrine of patent exhaustion. The Court held that while the patent exhaustion doctrine restricts a patentee's right to control what others can do with a particular article sold, it does not affect the patentee's ability to prevent a buyer from making new copies of a patented item. Thus, the Court determined that the patent exhaustion doctrine enabled Bowman to resell the patented commodity soybeans he purchased, or consume the beans, or feed them to his animals without interference from Monsanto, but it did not enable Bowman to make additional patented soybeans without Monsanto's permission.

The Court relied on its precedent in J.E.M. Ag. Supply, Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred Int'l, Inc., where the Court explained that only a patent holder, and not the holder of a certificate issued under the Plant Variety Protection Act, could prohibit a farmer who legally purchases and plants a protected seed from saving harvested seed for replanting. The Court also dismissed Bowman's argument that patent exhaustion should apply in this case because soybeans naturally self-replicate, and therefore the seeds themselves-and not Bowman-were responsible for producing copies. Such a "blame-the-bean" defense was unpersuasive in light of the Bowman's active role in purchasing, planting, selecting, harvesting, and replanting the infringing seeds for eight successive crops.

The Court took care to limit its holding to the situation before it, stating that it is a closer question as to whether the patent exhaustion doctrine would apply where an article's self-replication occurs outside the purchaser's control, or is necessary by incidental step in using the item for another purpose.

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