Percy Schmeiser

From Academic Kids

Percy Schmeiser (born January 5 1931) is a farmer from Bruno, Saskatchewan, Canada. He specializes in breeding and growing canola. He became an international symbol and spokesperson for independent farmers' rights and the regulation of transgenic crops during his protracted legal battle with agrichemical giant Monsanto.


Monsanto vs Schmeiser

In 1997, Monsanto's genetically modified Roundup Ready Canola plants were found in Percy Schmeiser's field. In spring 1998, before Schmeiser planted his 1998 crop, he was informed that Monsanto believed that he had grown Roundup Ready canola in 1997. In the summer of 1998 Schmeiser's the canola in Schmeiser's fields was found to be Roundup Ready canola. After this, Monsanto sued Schmeiser for patent infringement.

Regarding the origin of the plants in his 1997 fields, Schmeiser says he did not plant them and that they must have gotten there through natural, accidental pollination. Schmeiser says that the Roundup Ready Canola plants have contaminated his fields and his custom-bred strain of canola. Monsanto claimed that Schmeiser planted Roundup Ready Canola in his fields intentionally, though they later said they could offer no evidence for this, and that it was possible for natural pollination to have caused Roundup Ready Canola to grow in Schmeiser's field. (However, at trial they were able to present evidence sufficient to persuade the judge that Roundup Ready canola had probably not appeared in Schmeiser's 1997 field by such accidental means. See paragraph 118 of the trial ruling.)

All claims relating to Roundup Ready canola in Schmeiser's 1997 canola crop were dropped prior to trial and the court only considered the canola in Schmeiser's 1998 fields. Regarding his 1998 crop, Schmeiser did not put forward any defence of accidental contamination. Based on Schmeiser's account of events surrounding the appearance of Roundup Ready canola in his 1998 crop, the court found that he had either known "or ought to have known" that he had planted Roundup Ready canola in 1998. Given this, the question of whether the canola in his fields in 1997 arrived there accidentally was ruled to be irrelevant. Nonetheless, the court said it was persuaded "on the balance of probabilities" (the standard of proof in civil cases, meaning "more probable than not" i.e. strictly greater than 50% probability) that the Roundup Ready canola in Mr. Schmeiser's 1997 field had not arrived there by any of the accidental means, such as spillage from a truck or pollen travelling on the wind, that Mr. Schmeiser had proposed.

The court summarized Mr. Schmeiser's account of how seed for his 1998 crop was obtained thusly:

[38] [...] Roundup-resistant canola was first noticed in his crop in 1997, when Mr. Schmeiser and his hired hand, Carlysle Moritz, hand-sprayed Roundup around the power poles and in ditches along the road bordering fields 1, 2, 3 and 4. These fields are adjacent to one another and are located along the east side of the main paved grid road that leads south to Bruno from these fields. This spraying was part of the regular farming practices of the defendants, to kill weeds and volunteer plants around power poles and in ditches. Several days after the spraying, Mr. Schmeiser noticed that a large portion of the plants earlier sprayed by hand had survived the spraying with the Roundup herbicide.
[39] In an attempt to determine why the plants had survived the herbicide spraying, Mr. Schmeiser conducted a test in field 2. Using his sprayer, he sprayed, with Roundup herbicide, a section of that field in a strip along the road. He made two passes with his sprayer set to spray 40 feet, the first weaving between and around the power poles, and the second beyond but adjacent to the first pass in the field, and parallel to the power poles. This was said by him to be some three to four acres [12,000 to 16,000 m²] in all, or "a good three acres" [12,000 m²]. After some days, approximately 60% of the plants earlier sprayed had persisted and continued to grow. Mr. Schmeiser testified that these plants grew in clumps which were thickest near the road and began to thin as one moved farther into the field.
[40] Despite this result Mr. Schmeiser continued to work field 2, and, at harvest, Carlysle Moritz, on instruction from Mr. Schmeiser, swathed and combined field 2. He included swaths from the surviving canola seed along the roadside in the first load of seed in the combine which he emptied into an old Ford truck located in the field. That truck was covered with a tarp and later it was towed to one of Mr. Schmeiser's outbuildings at Bruno. In the spring of 1998 the seed from the old Ford truck was taken by Mr. Schmeiser in another truck to the Humboldt Flour Mill ("HFM") for treatment. After that, Mr. Schmeiser's testimony is that the treated seed was mixed with some bin-run seed and fertilizer and then used for planting his 1998 canola crop.

Supporters of Mr. Schmeiser have argued that this account still leaves open the possibility that the harvesting and replanting of Roundup Ready canola from the sprayed region was accidental and resulted from a miscommunication between Mr. Schmeiser and Mr. Moritz, or from a failure of Mr. Schmeiser to have the presence of mind to instruct Mr. Moritz to avoid taking canola seed for replanting from the sprayed region. Supporters of Monsanto have argued that an oversight of this nature is not plausible, especially in light of Mr. Schmeiser's claims regarding the extent to which he considered Roundup Ready canola undesirable in his fields and the importance he claims to have placed on the continued survival of his own strain of canola, and in light of his having been notified prior to planting his 1998 crop that Monsanto believed he had grown Roundup Ready canola in 1997. (Legally, the question is of no relevance, as an oversight of this nature is not a defence against patent infringement. Patents are civil law, not criminal law, and the presence or absence of "guilty intent" is not relevant in cases of patent infringement. On this point, note that the Federal Court of Appeal said that the case of accidental genetic contamination of a crop beyond a farmer's control should be an exception to the rule that intent is not an issue in patent disputes (see below).)

Schmeiser's principal defence at trial was that as he had not applied Roundup herbicide to his canola he had not used the invention. This argument was rejected; the court said that the patent granted for the invention did not specify the use of Roundup as part of the invention, and thus there was no basis for introducing the requirement that Roundup had to be used in order for the invention to be used. That is, a patent prohibits unauthorized use of an invention in any manner, not merely unauthorized use for its intended purpose.

Regarding the question of patent rights and the farmer's right to use seed taken from his fields, Monsanto said that because they hold a patent on the gene, and on canola cells containing the gene, they have a legal right to control its use, including the replanting of seed collected from plants with the gene which grew accidentally in someone else's field. Schmeiser insisted his right to save and replant seed from plants that have accidentally grown on his field overrides Monsanto's legal patent rights. Canadian law does not mention any such "farmer's rights"; the court held that the farmer's right to save and replant seeds are the simply the rights of a property owner over his or her property to use it as he or she wishes, and hence the right to use the seeds are subject to the same legal restrictions on use rights that apply in any case of ownership of property, including restrictions arising from patents in particular. That is to say, patent rights take priority of the right of the owner of physical property to use his property, and the entire point of a patent is to limit what the owner of physical property may do with that property, by forbidding him or her from using it to duplicate, produce or use a patented invention without permission of the patent owner. This overriding of the rights of the physical property owner at the expense of those of the intellectual property owner is the explicit purpose of the Patent Act. As property rights are not constitutional rights they do not override statutes such as the Patent Act. These issues were settled, in Monsanto's favour, at the trial before the Federal Court of Canada and upheld at the appeal level before the Federal Court of Appeal. Both courts found that a key element in Mr. Schmeiser's patent infringement in his 1998 crop was that he knew or ought to have known the nature of the seed he planted. The Federal Court of Appeal in particular stressed the importance of this fact in their decision to find Mr. Schmeiser in infringement of the patent, and noted that in a case of accidental contamination or a case where the farmer knew of the presence of the gene but took no action to increase its prevalence in his crop, a different ruling could be possible (see paragraphs 55-58 of the appeal ruling). (For the sake of precision, we note that no damages were assessed against Percy Schmeiser, the private individual. Only Mr. Schmeiser's farming corporation, Schmeiser Enterprises Ltd., was held liable, as Mr. Schmeiser had acted in his capacity as director of the corporation.)

The suit went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which considered the question of whether knowingly (or, where one ought to have known) planting and cultivating genetically modified canola constitutes "use" of Monsanto's patented invention of genetically modified canola cells, even if the crop is not treated with Roundup and the presence of the gene affords no advantage to the farmer. In international news, the court ruled in favour of Monsanto, holding that his use of the patented genes and cells was analogous to the use of a machine containing a patented part: "It is no defence to say that the thing actually used was not patented, but only one of its components." The court also held that by planting genetically modified Roundup resistant canola, Schmeiser made use of the "stand-by" or insurance utility of the invention. That is, he left himself the option of using Roundup on the crop should the need arise. This was considered to be analogous to the installation of patented pumps on a ship: even if the pumps are never actually switched on, they are still used by being available for pumping if the need arises.

Schmeiser won a partial victory at the Supreme Court: the court held that he did not have to pay Monsanto his profits from his 1998 crop, since the presence of the gene in his crops had not afforded him any advantage and had had made no profits on the crop that were attributable to the invention. The amount of profits at stake was relatively small, C$19,832, however by winning a partial victory Schmeiser was saved from having to pay Monsanto's legal bills, which amounted to several hundred thousand dollars and exceeded his own.

After about six years of court battling, Schmeiser guesses his legal bills have totalled close to 400 thousand Canadian dollars. Schmeiser says he has lost the right to use his strain of canola, which took him 50 years to develop, because he can not prove they do not include the Roundup Ready gene Monsanto patented. (Furthermore, he says that on the advice of his lawyers, he destroyed all his seed and purchased new seed, so his strain of canola no longer exists, which presents an additional obstacle to his continuing to farm it. However, he was ordered to turn over all his remaining seed from his 1997 and 1998 crops to Monsanto, so even if he hadn't eradicated his own strain on his own initiative, it would likely not have survived.) This interpretation is not consistent with the court rulings, which place no onus on a farmer in general nor Schmeiser in particular (for example, see paragraph 76 of the Federal Court of Appeal ruling) to prove the absence of the patented gene prior to growing seed.

On August 11 1999, Schmeiser sued Monsanto for ten million dollars for "libel, trespass, and contamination of his fields with Roundup Ready Canola".

Bruno vs Schmeiser

Schmeiser has also been involved in a dispute with the town of Bruno, which passed a resolution in 1996 prohibiting him from physically entering the town office after they were directed to do so by the Occupational Health and Safety Branch of the provincial Labour Department. In 2003 Schmeiser was acclaimed to town council, but was still prohibited from entering the building. A court ruling ordered the town council to permit him to enter the building to attend council meetings. Related to this dispute, Schmeiser has filed suit for libel against the town's mayor and deputy mayor.

Other accomplishments

Schmeiser served as mayor of the town of Bruno from 1966 to 1983, and also as member of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly for the Watrous constituency from 1967 to 1971. Percy Schmeiser married Louise Schmeiser in October of 1952 and they have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. In October of 2000, Schmeiser received the Mahatma Gandhi Award for working for the good of mankind in a non-violent way.


"Now, at 70, I am involved with this fight with Monsanto. I stood up to them because that a farmer should never give up the right to use his own seed. I felt very strongly about it because my grandparents came here from Europe in late 1890s and early 1900s to open this land, to be free, and to grow what they wanted to grow. Now we are going back to a feudal system that they left because they were not free—basically we are becoming serfs of the land." — Percy Schmeiser in an interview with Acres USA
"The appellants in this case [Schmeiser] actively cultivated canola containing the patented invention as part of their business operations. Mr. Schmeiser complained that the original plants came onto his land without his intervention. However, he did not at all explain why he sprayed Roundup to isolate the Roundup Ready plants he found on his land; why he then harvested the plants and segregated the seeds, saved them, and kept them for seed; why he next planted them; and why, through this husbandry, he ended up with 1030 acres [4.2 km²] of Roundup Ready Canola which would otherwise have cost him $15,000." — the Supreme Court of Canada in paragraph 87 of the ruling

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