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Alleged unlawful seed wheat deal spawns lawsuit

The next time you think about selling wheat seed without the proper authority, beware. You could wind up in federal court.

That's what five farmers found out this week. The South Dakota Board of Regents -- the governing body for South Dakota State University (SDSU) and the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station -- filed five federal lawsuits against these farmers to enforce laws governing wheat varieties using the Plant Variety Protection Act.

The lawsuits focus on the SDSU-owned spring wheat varieties Traverse and Briggs This federally protected seed can only be sold legally as a class of certified seed. The lawsuits allege that five particular producers knowingly sold or offered the seed for sale without legal authority, without proper seed certification, or without legitimate seed dealer licenses.

SDSU officials say the lawsuits were filed to protect South Dakota and Upper Midwest farmers.

"Our principal goal is to support farmers who rely on the continued development of better wheat varieties for their farming success," stated Kevin Kephart, SDSU vice president for research, in a news release.

The SDSU example is the latest one of several lawsuits filed by land-grant universities like Kansas State University, Colorado State University and Oklahoma State University. All have filed and won lawsuits against farmers. A recent case in Kansas resulted in a $150,000 judgment against a farmer who was accused of infringing on a KSU-developed variety.

Universities say protecting intellectual property helps spur further research efforts in wheat.

"What is interesting is this is being led by the public sector, rather than the private sector," says Carl Casale, executive vice president of global strategy and operations for Monsanto. "In last 30 days, two land-grant institutions instituted intellectual property rights on university germplasm against brownbagging. The industry clearly understands it needs innovation to be successful. It has come to understand there is no innovation unless there is reward."

This week, Monsanto got back in the wheat business by buying the assets of WestBred, a Montana-based company that specializes in wheat germplasm. Monsanto may explore future collaboration with public sources in wheat as well.

"Currently, the vast majority of genetics planted are coming out of the public sector," says Casale. "Unless there is a reward, they can't continue to make an investment on behalf of farmers."

The next time you think about selling wheat seed without the proper authority, beware. You could wind up in federal court.

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