It seems like Wikipedia doesn’t have a dedicated article yet, which is strange because it’s being heard by the United States Supreme Court… But anyways here‘s the monsanto article. And here’s a quick summary:
1) monsanto develops & patents a herbicidal resistant strain of soybeans
2) they sell said soybeans to farmers as seed under the condition that the farmer not plant any future generations
3) farmer buys seed from grain elevator
4) farmer plants said seed & uses monsanto herbicide
5) some of the farmer’s soy plants grow, some are killed by herbicide
6) monsanto sues farmer for illegally using seed
Now in reality the farmer was almost certain that a reasonable fraction of the seed he purchased from the grain elevator would be resistant since monsanto crops compose about 80% of the total soybean yield in the United States. But, the farmer was employing a technique used frequently in biology to identify mutants. Organisms are grown in an environment which is hostile to normal growth, any individuals which have beneficial mutations allowing them to grow in these conditions proliferate wildly. It usually takes a few generations & some uv light to get something interesting, but at issue is you’re doing work to identify individuals with a certain trait, in this case herbicide resistance. Say he started with random seeds instead of monsanto seeds in order to do this sort of selective breeding and grow soybeans which are especially salt resistant. Would he be infringing on monsanto patents? What would the best source of seeds for this sort of an experiment be, maybe a mix of a bunch of different strains, something like what one might find in a grain elevator?
Of course, it’s kind of sad, because it does appear he’s going to lose. Which means gene patents galore, bad news bears.