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Patent lawsuit filed on low-linolenic soybeans

Agriculture.com Staff 05/23/2007 @ 2:32pm

Iowa State University's Research Foundation filed a lawsuit this week against Monsanto claiming the chemical company is violating a patent on low-linolenic soybeans developed by ISU researchers.

Ken Kirkland, executive Director of the Iowa State University Research Foundation, told Agriculture Online Tuesday the complaint has been filed in federal court in Iowa.

"ISU has reached a stalemate in an attempt to resolve a patent dispute with Monsanto over low-linolenic acid soybeans," Kirkland said.

Low levels of linolenic acid in soybean oil increase its shelf life. Demand for the oil from the food industry has been high because of its excellent frying and flavor stability without the hydrogenation process that creates trans fats.

In the lawsuit, ISU officials asked for an injunction against Monsanto's violation of the patents, monetary damages and declaratory judgment that thee has been no settlement agreement between the two parties.

Meanwhile, Geri Berdak, Monsanto director of public affairs responded to the lawsuit by email.

"Monsanto Company's scientists developed its patented soybean product containing low-linolenic acid, using publicly available germplasm. We did not use any material from ISU and did not infringe upon any of ISU’s patents," the company release stated. "Nevertheless, when we learned there was a dispute, to avoid litigation, we worked to resolve the issue, since we have had a long, productive relationship with Iowa State University, where a number of our employees obtained their education. We did indeed reach an agreement on this issue. We believe ISU’s claims are without merit and we hope for a timely resolution."

In the lawsuit, ISU officials state research on the low-linolenic soybean variety has been conducted since 1968.

Though Monsanto has had its Visitive low-linolenic variety on the market since 2005, the lawsuit was filed after ISU researchers discovered the genetic sequence of Monsanto's low-linolenic variety matched their own, Kirkland said.

"We remain hopeful that we will be able to work out our differences that have been communicated to Monsanto," Kirkland said. "That's all we are saying right now."

Kirkland added, "We are in communication with them (Monsanto). So, I think we can resolve it amicably."

Last month, a Monsanto press release stated their Visitive low-linolenic variety would be available to farmers for the 2007 season throughout Iowa and in parts of Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky.

Expected to be planted on about 1.5 million acres this season, Vistive low-lin soybeans contain 3 percent linolenic acid as an oil component compared with 8 percent for conventional soybeans, according to the press release. "This low-linolenic alternative enables food processors to use Vistive oil as a substitute for hydrogenated soybean oil that contains unhealthy trans fats," Monsanto officials stated.

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