Asgrow Seed Co. v. Winterboer, 513 U.S. 179, 3 (1995)

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Cite as: 513 U. S. 179 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970, 7 U. S. C. 2321 et seq., protects owners of novel seed varieties against unauthorized sales of their seed for replanting purposes. An exemption, however, allows farmers to make some sales of protected variety seed to other farmers. This case raises the question whether there is a limit to the quantity of protected seed that a farmer can sell under this exemption.


In 1970, Congress passed the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA), 84 Stat. 1542, 7 U. S. C. 2321 et seq., in order to provide developers of novel plant varieties with "adequate encouragement for research, and for marketing when appropriate, to yield for the public the benefits of new varieties," 2581. The PVPA extends patent-like protection to novel varieties of sexually reproduced plants (that is, plants grown from seed) which parallels the protection afforded asexually reproduced plant varieties (that is, varieties reproduced by propagation or grafting) under Chapter 15 of the Patent Act. See 35 U. S. C. 161-164.

The developer of a novel variety obtains PVPA coverage by acquiring a certificate of protection from the Plant Variety Protection Office. See 7 U. S. C. 2421, 2422, 2481- 2483. This confers on the owner the exclusive right for 18 years to "exclude others from selling the variety, or offering it for sale, or reproducing it, or importing it, or exporting it, or using it in producing (as distinguished from developing) a hybrid or different variety therefrom." 2483.

Petitioner, Asgrow Seed Company, is the holder of PVPA certificates protecting two novel varieties of soybean seed, which it calls A1937 and A2234. Respondents, Dennis and Becky Winterboer, are Iowa farmers whose farm spans 800 acres of Clay County, in the northwest corner of the


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