The PACER entry is compelling:
JURY VERDICT For: Plaintiffs Against: Defendants In the Amount of: One Billion Dollars. (Entered: 08/02/2012)
In his August 6 order, Judge Webber confirmed the jury verdict that DuPont/Pioneer willfully infringe Monsanto's GMO roundup-ready seed patent. The jury rejected the defendants' claims that the asserted patent was invalid; that the patent had been finally obtained through inequitable conduct; and that the reissue patent improperly expanded the scope of the original claims. The judge also confirmed the jury's reasonable royalty damage award of "One Billion Dollars ($1,000,000,000)."
The asserted patent was Monsanto's reissue No. RE 39,247 and the accused product was DuPont's Optimum GAT soybean line that has never been released to the public. Rather, thus far DuPont's use of the patent has been for research purposes. No matter – the US has only a de minimis research defense that certainly does not apply here. See Madey v. Duke. Thus, unlicensed use of the Monsanto genetically modified soybean seed counts as infringement, even if that use was only for the development of a commercial product.
There is no question that this innovation was groundbreaking and has transformed the landscape of American agriculture. The genetic modification makes crops tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate. Although far from organic, glyphosate (RoundUp) has a much smaller negative environmental impact than other herbicides. In addition, the use of glyphosate has allowed for no-till farming that greatly reduces topsoil runoff and energy demands. In his press release, Monsanto's General Counsel David Snively wrote that the verdict "highlights that all companies that make early and substantial investments in developing cutting edge technology will have their intellectual property rights upheld and fairly valued." Snively's remarks are perhaps overstated, but at least have some kernels of truth.
The damages theory was interesting. Since the accused product was not yet on the market, Monsanto did not seek any lost profit. Rather, Monsanto demanded a reasonable royalty for the research-use made by the defendants. Monsanto argued that the use of Monsanto's invention in DuPont's labs and Pioneer's test fields gave those companies an "improper head start" in making the GM seeds. The judge and jury agreed – if those companies wanted to build upon the invention then they should have first obtained a license. In the pharmaceutical world, 35 U.S.C. § 271(e) offers a research exemption for this type of activity. However, that exception does not apply here because of the low level of regulation over genetically modified food-products. The patent is set to expire in 2014. The patentee's right-to-exclusive-research supported by this case means that the 2014 date offers a starting-date for follow-on competitive research. Any actual products building directly upon the patented invention will arrive on the market sometime later.
I sat-in on one day of the jury trial that was held in St. Louis, Missouri. The eight-member jury were largely attentive as they listened to DuPont's technical expert explain DNA and problems with the patent. I smiled at seeing the jury members walk in wearing t-shirts and carrying notepads. Their attitude and attire was a severe contrast to the room full of two-dozen attorneys and experts (each charging hourly). Although I'm sure that Judge Webber could have ably decided the case himself, the jury of individual citizens gave me a bit more confidence in our system and, in my mind, offers the ultimate reality check for this type of case. At least some of the jury members appear to be fans of Dr. Evil.
The level of damages, claim construction, and other issues will be the subject of an appeal the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.