A truck is loaded with soybeans near Rondonópolis, Brazil, presumably for export to China. Source: The New York Times.
This article analyzes different strategies of an agricultural company (Monsanto) to enforce intellectual property rights on soybeans in South America, especially in Brazil, during the last ten years. A recent court decision ordered Monsanto to pay up to $3 billion in compensatory damages. This is probably one of the most important cases on agricultural intellectual property. On one hand, there is complex company strategy to create intellectual property rights through patents, plant variety protections, import market controls, and thousands of direct agreements with actors throughout the production chain, as well extensions of those rights through different lawsuits. This makes for a very interesting case study on intellectual property rights and on control of emerging markets. The strategy was complemented by the acquisition of major seed companies and through agreements with different agents of the soy production chain, such as seeders, traders, importers, exporters, farm cooperatives, and individual farmers. On the other hand, farmers responded by filing multiple lawsuits. After ten years in litigation, farmers succeeded in recovering retroactively the entire amount in dispute, plus significant amounts of interest. The matter is of particular economic and technical importance. It is economically important because of the amount of money evolved. It is technically important because it reveals important intellectual property techniques that can be used to dominate key markets.
Editor's note: I have very modestly edited Marcelo Varella's abstract.