Justia Agriculture Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Inguran, LLC v. ABS Global, Inc.
Using a patent directed to a method for sorting sperm cells according to specific DNA characteristics to preselect the gender of a domestic animal’s offspring, STGenetics, provided bull semen-processing services to ABS, which sells semen drawn from its own bulls, packaged in small tubes for use in artificial insemination.In 2014, ABS filed an antitrust lawsuit, alleging that ST was maintaining monopoly power for sexed semen processing. ST brought counterclaims for trade secret misappropriation, breach of contract, and patent infringement. ABS stipulated to direct infringement of three claims. A jury awarded ST $750,000 for past infringement and a royalty on future sales of sexed semen tubes sold by ABS. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the validity findings and issued a remand that did not concern the ongoing royalty.ST filed another infringement suit, which was consolidated with the remand proceedings, then learned that ABS had begun selling and licensing ST’s system to third parties. ST filed a third suit, asserting induced infringement (35 U.S.C. 271(b)). The district court dismissed the action, citing claim preclusion.The Federal Circuit reversed. An induced patent infringement claim brought at the time of the first trial would have been based on speculation; the parties stipulated to direct infringement and the question of inducement was not before the jury. The scope of ABS’s direct infringement allegations cannot reasonably be expanded to cover actions of third-party licensees using the technology to make their own tubes. View "Inguran, LLC v. ABS Global, Inc." on Justia Law
BASF Plant Science, LP v. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
CSIRO, a research arm of the Australian government, owns six U.S. patents, concerning the engineering of plants, particularly canola, to produce specified oils not native to the plants. After the resolution of jurisdiction and venue issues in an infringement case against BASF and Cargill, the case proceeded to trial on eight claims of the six patents. The parties stipulated to infringement of five patents; the jury found infringement of the sixth. The jury rejected invalidity challenges, including the challenge that the asserted patent claims lacked adequate written-description support. The jury found that BASF co-owned one patent (precluding infringement of that patent) but not the others. The district court ruled that the evidence would not support a finding of willfulness, denied a conduct-stopping injunction, and granted an ongoing royalty on all five patents found infringed.The Federal Circuit affirmed that Eastern District of Virginia venue was proper and affirmed the verdict rejecting the written-description challenge to the claims that are limited to canola plants but reversed as to the broader genus claims. The court agreed that five patents were not co-owned by BASF but reversed the contrary verdict as to the sixth, so that infringement of all valid claims of the six patents is now settled. The court upheld the district court’s refusal to submit willfulness to the jury and its decision on an evidentiary issue concerning past damages but remanded for reconsideration of the remedy. View "BASF Plant Science, LP v. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation" on Justia Law
Phytelligence Inc. v. Washington State University
Phytelligence, an agricultural biotechnology company that used tissue culture to grow trees, and Washington State University (WSU) contracted for the propagation of WSU's patented “WA 38” apple trees. Section 4 of the agreement was entitled “option to participate as a provider and/or seller in [WSU] licensing programs.” The parties acknowledged that WSU would need to “grant a separate license for the purpose of selling.” Phytelligence expressed concern about the “wispy forward commitment.” WSU responded that “Phytelligence and others would have a shot at securing commercial licenses.”WSU later requested proposals for commercializing WA 38. Phytelligence did not submit a proposal. WSU accepted PVM’s proposal, granting PVM an exclusive license that required PVM to subcontract exclusively with NNII, a fruit tree nursery association, to propagate and sell WA 38 trees. Phytelligence later notified WSU that it wanted to exercise its option. WSU responded that PVM was WSU’s “agent.” Phytelligence rejected PVM’s requirement to become an NNII member and two non-membership proposals for obtaining commercial rights to WA 38. WSU terminated the Propagation Agreement, alleging that Phytelligence breached the Agreement when it sold WA 38 to a third-party without a license and that such actions infringed its plant patent and its COSMIC CRISP trademark.Phytelligence sued, alleging breach of the Agreement. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of WSU. Section 4 is an unenforceable agreement to agree. WSU did not commit to any definite terms of a future license. View "Phytelligence Inc. v. Washington State University" on Justia Law
Moody v. United States
The Moodys leased Pine Ridge Indian Reservation parcels for agriculture. The government has a trust responsibility for Indian agricultural lands, 25 U.S.C. 3701(2). The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to participate in the management of such lands, with the participation of the beneficial owners and has delegated some responsibilities to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). BIA regulations generally allow Indian landowners to enter into agricultural leases with BIA approval. Each Moody lease defined “the Indian or Indians” as the “LESSOR.” The Claims Court concluded that the Oglala Sioux Tribe signed the leases. Other lease provisions distinguished between the lease parties and the Secretary of the Interior/United States. Issues arose in 2012. The BIA sent letters canceling the leases, noting that the Moodys could appeal the decision to the Regional Director. Within the 30-day appeal period, the Moodys returned with a cashier’s check in the proper amount, which the BIA accepted. The BIA informed the Moodys that they need not appeal, could continue farming, and did not require written confirmation. Subsequently, the Moodys received trespass notices and were instructed to vacate, which they did. The Moodys did not appeal within the BIA but sued the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of the written contract claims for lack of jurisdiction because the government was not a party to the leases, for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the Moodys did not have implied-in-fact contracts with the government, and for failure to raise a cognizable takings claim because their claim was based on the government’s alleged violation of applicable regulations. View "Moody v. United States" on Justia Law
St. Bernard Parish Government v. United States
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) entered into a “Cooperative Agreement” with St. Bernard Parish under the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act, 31 U.S.C. 6301–08. Under the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, NRCS was “authorized to assist [St. Bernard] in relieving hazards created by natural disasters that cause a sudden impairment of a watershed.” NRCS agreed to “provide 100 percent ($4,318,509.05) of the actual costs of the emergency watershed protection measures,” and to reimburse the Parish. St. Bernard contracted with Omni for removing sediment in Bayou Terre Aux Boeufs for $4,290,300.00, predicated on the removal of an estimated 119,580 cubic yards of sediment. Omni completed the project. Despite having removed only 49,888.69 cubic yards of sediment, Omni billed $4,642,580.58. NRCS determined that it would reimburse St. Bernard only $2,849,305.60. Omni and St. Bernard executed a change order that adjusted the contract price to $3,243,996.37. St. Bernard paid Omni then sought reimbursement from NRCS. NRCS reimbursed $355,866.21 less than St. Bernard claims it is due. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Parish’s lawsuit, filed under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In the Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994, 7 U.S.C. 6991–99, Congress created a detailed, comprehensive scheme providing private parties with the right of administrative review of adverse decisions by particular agencies within the Department of Agriculture, including NRCS. View "St. Bernard Parish Government v. United States" on Justia Law
LaBatte v. United States
In 1999, Native American farmers sued, alleging that the USDA had discriminated against them with respect to farm loans and other benefits. The court certified a class, including LaBatte, a farmer and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe. Under a settlement, the government would provide a $680 million compensation fund. The Track A claims process was limited to claimants seeking standard payments of $50,000. Track A did not require proof of discrimination. Under Track B, a claimant could seek up to $250,000 by establishing that his treatment by USDA was "less favorable than that accorded a specifically identified, similarly situated white farmer(s),” which could be established “by a credible sworn statement based on personal knowledge by an individual who is not a member of the Claimant’s family.” A "Neutral" would review the record without a hearing; there was no appeal of the decision. LaBatte's Track B claim identified two individuals who had personal knowledge of the USDA’s treatment of similarly-situated white farmers. Both worked for the government's Bureau of Indian Affairs. Before LaBatte could finalize their declarations, the government directed the two not to sign the declarations. The Neutral denied LaBatte’s claim. The Claims Court affirmed the dismissal of LaBatte’s appeal, acknowledging that it had jurisdiction over breach of settlement claims, but concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over LaBatte’s case because LaBatte had, in the Track B process, waived his right to judicial review to challenge the breach of the agreement. The Federal Circuit reversed. There is no language in the agreement that suggests that breach of the agreement would not give rise to a new cause of action. View "LaBatte v. United States" on Justia Law
XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, L.C.
XY’s patents relate to the sorting of X- and Y-chromosome-bearing sperm cells, for selective breeding purposes. Trans Ova provides services related to embryo transfer and in-vitro fertilization for cattle. XY and Trans Ova entered into a five-year licensing agreement in 2004 under which Trans Ova was authorized to use XY’s technology, subject to automatic renewal unless Trans Ova was in material breach. In 2007, Inguran acquired XY and sent a letter purporting to terminate the Agreement because of alleged breaches. For several years, the parties negotiated but failed to resolve their disputes. Trans Ova continued to make royalty payments to XY, which were declined. XY alleges that it became aware of further breaches, including underpayment of royalties and development of improvements to XY’s technology without disclosure of such improvements to XY. XY sued for patent infringement and breach of contract. Trans Ova counterclaimed, alleging patent invalidity, breach of contract, and antitrust violations. The district court granted XY summary judgment on the antitrust counterclaims. A jury found breaches of contract by both parties; that Trans Ova failed to prove that the asserted patent claims were invalid and willfully infringed the asserted claims; and XY was entitled to patent infringement damages. The court denied all of Trans Ova’s requested relief and granted XY an ongoing royalty. The Federal Circuit affirmed except the ongoing royalty rate, which it remanded for recalculation. View "XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, L.C." on Justia Law