Key Player: Monsanto
Monsanto, which was founded in St. Louis Missouri in 1901, is an agricultural company that is well-known in the area of plant gene patenting. Monsanto is a key member of an expansive web of business relationships that are shown in a chart on this page.
To date, Monsanto (inculding Calgene and Dekalb Genetics Corp.) have only seven granted patents on rice sequences. However, Monsanto is a key player in this landscape because of the large number of “bulk sequence applications” that they have filed. To date, Monsanto has 10 pending applications that each recited more than 7,000 sequences in the claims as originally filed. One of these, U.S. Application No. 20040214272, recites 369,326 sequences. The plot below shows the percent coverage of the rice genome by Monsanto patent applications:
Monsanto was the first private company to announce that it completed a working draft of genetic map of rice. According to a 2002 Monsanto Press Release:
|‘”Monsanto shared its draft rice genome data with the global scientific community because we understand the importance of rice as both a major global food source and as a model crop for agriculture and plant research,” said Robb Fraley, Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto. In addition to sharing its data with IRGSP, Monsanto established a rice genome database at www.rice-research.org, which makes the data available at no charge to publicly funded researchers. Since the database was established, more than 760 researchers, many located in developing countries, have obtained access to Monsanto’s rice genome sequence data.”|
The following excerpt was reported in Nature Biotechnology (Nature Biotechnology 18, 484, 2000). No mention was made of the patent applications. Patent applications are generally not published for 18 months after their initial filing, but due to non-publication requests by Monsanto, some of these were not published for many years, as late as 2007 (see the page on Submarine Applications).
|“On April 4, Monsanto (St. Louis, MO) announced it has completed a “working draft” genetic map of the rice genome and that it will share the information freely with academic researchers. Although most praise the decision, the first time a large multinational corporation has agreed to disclose so much information about an important crop to the academic world, some question the availability of the data and the eventual cost of using it. The map, which was compiled under contract by the laboratory of Leroy Hood of the University of Washington (Seattle), covers locations on all 12 rice chromosomes of the Oryza sativa (japonica variety) rice genome…”|
While Monsanto made the sequencing data available to the public, they simultaneously pursued patent coverage for the sequences. Research results published after the filing of the patent applications by anyone working with these sequences would not invalidate the patent applications, but could actually strengthen Monsanto’s claims in continuation patent applications. This is a testament to the fact that information that is publicly available, even at no charge or with contribution from public funds, is not necessarily available for public use.
- Monsanto press release, July 11, 2000