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Supreme Court to review Monsanto seed patents

By Jonathan Stempel and Terry Baynes

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to consider an Indiana soybean farmer's appeal of an appellate court decision that he infringed Monsanto Co patents over seeds that can be replicated.

The case is one of seven that the highest U.S. court decided on Friday to review, with oral arguments likely to be scheduled for January or February of 2013.

Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, has a reputation for zealously defending patents on its genetically altered crops, including Roundup Ready soybeans, corn and cotton.

From 1997 to April 2010, the company filed 144 patent infringement lawsuits against farmers, who like the seeds because of their ability to withstand herbicide treatments. Monsanto would prefer that farmers buy genetically modified seeds each year.

In the case accepted for review, Vernon Bowman was appealing a September 2011 decision by the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington that upheld an $84,456 damages award for Monsanto.

The St. Louis-based company had said Bowman was growing more soybeans than his purchases of seeds containing Roundup Ready technology could generate.

Bowman countered that he bought the seeds as part of an undifferentiated mix of "commodity" seeds, and that farmers had used such seeds for planting, and created "second-generation" seeds, for decades.

In his appeal, Bowman said the Federal Circuit erred in forbidding his use of the seeds for a natural and foreseeable purpose: planting. He said earlier court decisions suggested Monsanto had no rights after it made an initial sale.

Monsanto shares closed on Friday up 52 cents at $91.16 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The case is Bowman v. Monsanto Co et al, No. 11-796.

FCC CASE, FACT-FINDING BY JUDGES

The Supreme Court also agreed to consider how much deference to give federal agencies in setting their own jurisdictions, in two combined cases that could affect the ability to deploy wireless telephone services nationwide.

At issue is the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to step in and help further the placement of wireless communications facilities when state and local governments failed to act on tower-siting applications fast enough.

Cities including Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Arlington, Texas, as well as the New Orleans City Council, said that interfered with their power to enforce local zoning standards.

The cases are City of Arlington et al v. U.S., No. 11-1545; and Cable, Telecommunications, and Technology Committee of the New Orleans City Council v. FCC, No. 11-1547.

Other cases that were accepted are:

- Alleyne v. U.S., No. 11-9335: Whether the court should overrule a 2002 precedent and require a jury, rather than a judge, to find facts allowing an increase in a mandatory minimum criminal sentence.

- Boyer v. Louisiana, No. 11-9953: Whether a state's failure to pay for a defendant's lawyer, resulting from a decision to seek the death penalty, should be held against the state in deciding whether the defendant's right to a speedy trial was violated.

- Gunn v. Minton, No. 11-1118: Whether a software developer who lost a patent infringement case against Nasdaq could sue his lawyers for malpractice in a Texas state court, or whether the case belonged in federal court because it involved patent law.

- Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management, No. 11-1447: Whether a municipal entity's refusal to award a permit to develop land unless the owner also agreed to help preserve Florida wetlands was a "taking" that required compensation.

- McBurney et al v. Young et al, No. 12-17: Whether a state can give out-of-state residents a lesser right of access to review public records than it gives its own citizens.

Decisions in the cases are expected by the end of June.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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