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Federal court rules for Syngenta in glyphosate-tolerant trait case

Agriculture.com Staff 05/11/2006 @ 7:36am

Syngenta Seeds was the winner in a federal district court ruling on Wednesday regarding the glyphosate-tolerant corn trait GA21. A summary judgment ruling by the U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, ruled Syngenta did not infringe Monsanto's patent rights by selling GA21 corn.

The two companies have been sparring over Syngenta's use and marketing of its GA21 corn for several years. Monsanto claims it is the patent holder on the fundamental technique used in producing glyphosate-tolerant plants. However, the court ruled that one of Monsanto's patents related to glyphosate-tolerant genes was not properly enabled, and that Syngenta had not infringed two other Monsanto patents related to glyphosate-tolerant corn technology.

"We are extremely pleased with this decision that confirms our right to sell GA21 products," said Mike Mack, COO of Syngenta Seeds. "This decision is good news as it promotes competition and thus more choice for growers."

Syngenta Seeds bought the GA21 technology in 2004 from Bayer CropScience. The GA21 trait is marketed as Agrisure GT through Garst, Northrup King, and Golden Harvest, which are all owned by Syngenta. GreenLeaf Genetics, which last month was the focus of a joint venture between Syngenta and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, also licenses the Agrisure GT trait to independent seed companies. Monsanto plans to appeal the ruling. "We believe it is important to protect the technology that our scientists developed and we are disappointed with the court's ruling," says Charles Burson, executive vice president and general counsel for Monsanto. "We believe the court's ruling is wrong and we plan to appeal. We remain confident that the achievements of Monsanto scientists will be established on appeal."

In the meantime, Syngenta Seeds will continue marketing the Agrisure GT trait as the appeals process plays out. "We're confident in our arguments and that this decision was well-written," says Tom Gahm, a Syngenta spokesman.

Monsanto was first to offer glyphosate-tolerant technology, unveiling Roundup Ready Corn in 1998. Since then, it has marketed an improved version -- Roundup Ready Corn 2.

Syngenta first marketed its Agrisure GT trait in 2005. This was accompanied by Agrisure CB, which protects corn plants from damage by European corn borer, and a stack of the two traits, Agrisure GT/CB, "One third of the corn units sold by Garst, Golden Harvest and Northrup King last year contained Agrisure traits," says Gahm. "We are anticipating that to be two-thirds this year."

There will be more glyphosate-tolerant choices in the coming years. Last year, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and its parent company, DuPont, announced its glyphosate-tolerant technology -- Optimum GAT -- is expected to receive full federal registration by 2009.

In the meantime, Monsanto plans to continue to compete in the marketplace with its glyphosate-tolerant technology. "Today, farmers have numerous choices for controlling weeds in their fields and we look forward to continuing to compete with our glyphosate-tolerant corn products in the field, and in continuing to earn the farmer's business," said Carl Casale, executive vice president of Monsanto. "We've anticipated that Syngenta will work from a non-Monsanto technology platform for some time and our financial projections are consistent with this assumption."

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