Broccoli Sprouts Patent Defeated
One Temporary Victory for Common Sense Against Patent Abuse
Judge William Nickerson of the US District Court for the District of Maryland has just ruled that the broccoli sprout patent is invalid. Here is what happened in the case.
Brassica Protection Products LLC and Johns Hopkins University initiated a patent infringement action against five sprout growers and one seed company in September 2000. Complaints were filed and served on Banner Mountain Sprouts (California), Edrich Farms (Maryland), Harmony Farms (Washington), Sunrise Farms (Wisconsin), and International Specialty Supply, dba SunGarden Sprouts (Tennessee). Brassica succeeded in having all these lawsuits consolidated for pre-trial purposes in the US District Court for the District of Maryland, which happens to be the State where Brassica and Johns Hopkins University are located.
On July 23, 2001, shortly after a sprout growers convention in Tennessee, the Court heard arguments on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. A Motion for Summary Judgment is a motion filed by a party to a lawsuit arguing that based on the record before the Court, no genuine issue exists as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A genuine issue exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party. A ruling in favor of the moving party is very drastic. You are essentially taking away a party's right to a trial. For this reason, summary judgment motions are rarely granted.
Under the patent statutes, a patent enjoys a presumption of validity, which can be overcome only through clear and convincing evidence. Thus the moving party seeking to invalidate a patent at summary judgment must submit such clear and convincing evidence of invalidity so that no reasonable finder of fact could conclude otherwise. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolves all doubts in its favor.
The primary issue presented to the Court, "succinctly" articulated by defense counsel: "Can a plant (broccoli sprouts), long well known in nature and cultivated and eaten by humans for decades, be patented merely on the basis of a recent realization that the plant has always had some heretofore unknown but naturally occurring beneficial feature?" The Court finds that the answer to that question must be "no."
The Court goes on to state that "the facts relevant to the construction and validity of Plaintiffs' patent claims are fairly uncomplicated and largely undisputed. Plaintiffs do not dispute that the prior art taught that cruciferous seeds, including broccoli, can be germinated and consumed as a food product in the sprout stage. . . . Plaintiffs also do not claim that their patents involve doing anything to alter or modify the natural seeds. They are simply germinated, harvested, and eaten."
The Court goes on to further state "defendants...do not dispute that Fahey and Talalay discovered a new and significant property of certain types of cruciferous sprouts, i.e., that these sprouts contain high levels of substances that aid the human body in preventing cancer. Defendants do not challenge that Fahey and Talalay also discovered that certain cruciferous sprouts, such as broccoli and cauliflower, contain much higher levels of these substances than other cruciferous seeds. Instead, Defendants contend, and the Court agrees, that merely describing unexpected beneficial results of a known process does not entitle Plaintiffs to patent that process."
The complete opinion is at http://www.isga-sprouts.org/memorand.htm
Such stupid lawsuits should not get this far. What do you think? How best can patent law be reformed? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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