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Post-patent Roundup Ready 1 era is coming

Gil Gullickson 02/12/2013 @ 3:32pm Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

Midwest soybean farmers have had access to Roundup Ready 1 (RR1) soybean trait technology since the mid-1990s.  Monsanto patented the biotech trait with tolerance to glyphosate herbicides and incorporated the trait into soybean seed in the early 1990s.  U.S. patents are only granted for a 20-year period, however, so Monsanto's RR1 trait patent is set to expire in 2014. Here are questions and answered compiled by the Illinois Soybean Association on what you need to know about the change.

What does RR1 trait patent expiration really mean?

Ultimately, RR1 trait patent expiration means that soybean farmers will no longer have to pay trait royalties to Monsanto to purchase and plant RR1 seed.  Farmers should be aware that other protected intellectual property may be in some soybean seed with RR1, so even if the trait patent has expired, some seed may be protected by a variety patent on the seed's germplasm.  Farmers will need to confirm with their seed companies if a variety patent is in place.

What is the timeframe for RR1 patent expiration?

Monsanto’s RR1 trait patent will expire in 2014.  However, other patents that may cover or include RR1 soybeans may have different expirations or regulations.  Beginning with the 2015 planting season, farmers may be able to buy generic soybean varieties with only the RR1 trait.  Soybean association leaders are working with Monsanto and other seed suppliers to address questions farmers may have about their ability to buy generic soybean varieties with the RR1 trait and ensure a clear pathway for availability of generic versions after patent expiration.  

When can I legally save seed and quit paying the trait royalty?

After 2014, the RR1 trait will be off patent.  Starting with the 2015 crop season, Monsanto will no longer collect trait royalty payments from those who purchase or sell RR1 seed varieties.  In addition, Monsanto will not pursue variety patents on Monsanto-developed varieties containing the RR1 trait when farmers plant such saved seed varieties on their own farm.  Farmers who wish to save and plant RR1 trait seed varieties after 2014 should definitively check with their seed companies to ensure a variety is not patent protected.

If the RR1 patent does not expire until 2014, why do I need to worry about it now?

Midwest farmers should continue to choose the soybean varieties that make the most sense for individual farming operations.  If you want continued access to RR1 soybean varieties, other varieties that contain the RR1 trait or that contain additional modes of herbicide tolerance, you should make your wishes known to seed companies.  Both public and private seed researchers may be able to create generic RR1 stand-alone varieties.  Seed companies need to know whether demand for RR1 trait seed will continue.  Soybean leaders urge farmers to contact seed companies as soon as possible and communicate future interests.  

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