Bowman v. Monsanto: Revisiting the Exhaustion Doctrine and its Application to Biotechnology and Digital Technologies
Requires Subscription or Fee PDF


Bowman v. Monsanto
exhaustion doctrine
self-replicating inventions
GM Seed


On February 19, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Bowman v. Monsanto – the first case to directly present the question of how the Exhaustion Doctrine should apply to patents relating to biotechnology and digital technology inventions.  The Petitioner, Vernon Hugh Bowman, asserts that the Exhaustion Doctrine should be extended to advanced agricultural technologies where the technology itself is contained in genetically modified seeds that may be reproduced through successive generations of seeds without limitation, and that companies like Monsanto can instead rely on remedies found in contract law to protect its commercial interests.  The Respondent, Monsanto Corporation, supported by the U.S. Government, (not surprisingly) disagrees, contending that an extension of the Exhaustion Doctrine of this magnitude would undercut effective patent protection for inventions that may reproduce perfectly over generations, undermining R&D in innovative technologies.  
During the Bowman v. Monsanto oral argument on February 19th, the Justices focused on the broad scope of the exception sought by the Petitioner to patent rights for GM seed as an extension of the Exhaustion Doctrine to biotechnology and digital technology inventions, and did not appear persuaded either that the only reasonable use of the soybeans by Bowman was to plant them or that right holders would find effective modes of protection through contract law.  The Justices noted that this was the first case to present the intersection of the Exhaustion Doctrine and effective protection for inventions that may be reproduced across generations – that intersection to be the issue of greatest interest to the Court in  Bowman v. Monsanto, where the Court may be unlikely to create a sweeping exception to patent rights for biotechnology or digital technology inventions that has not been contemplated by the Congress.
Requires Subscription or Fee PDF


Monsanto Co. v. Bowman, 686 F. Supp. 2d 834 (S.D. Ind. 2009).

Jazz Photo Corp v. International Trade Commission, 264 F3D 1094, 11-2 Fed Cir. 2001), Cert Denied, 536 U.S. 950 (2002)

Monsanto Co. v. Bowman, 657 F3d 1341 (Fed Cir.2011

Quanta Computer Inc., v. IG Elecs., Inc., 553 U.S. 617, 631 (2008)

Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Bowman v. Monsanto Co. (Dec 11, 2011), available online at

Bowman v. Monsanto Oral Argument Transcript, available online at

Unless specified by prior arrangement, the author agrees to the following terms and assurances:

  1. For myself and on behalf of the other authors listed on this work, I assign to thinkBiotech LLC the copyright* in the contribution for the full term throughout the world.
  2. I/we further give to the following assurances
    1. I am the sole author of the contribution, or, if not, I have the written authority of the other authors to transfer the copyright* to thinkBiotech LLC and give these warranties;
    2. I and (where appropriate) the other authors are entitled to transfer the copyright to thinkBiotech LLC and no one else would be entitled to prevent us from publishing the contribution;
    3. To the best of my/our knowledge, all the facts in the contribution are true and accurate;
    4. The content of the contribution is entirely original to me (and where appropriate to the other authors) or, if not, the written permission of the owner of the copyright in any material copied from elsewhere has been obtained for all media (all such permissions to be attached to the contribution as supplementary files);
    5. Nothing in the contribution is obscene or libellous;
    6. Nothing in the contribution infringes any duty of confidentiality which I/or the other authors may owe to anyone else.
    7. I and/or the other authors have obtained the appropriate clearances from my/our employer(s) or other concerned institution(s).
* Works by US government employees prepared as part of official duties are in the public domain and the authors are therefore exempt from copyright assignment.