Asgrow Seed Co. v. Winterboer, 513 U.S. 179, 13 (1995)

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

Opinion of the Court

discussed exception to the exemption would apply. As a practical matter, since 2541(1) prohibits all unauthorized transfer of title to, or possession of, the protected variety, this means that the only seed that can be sold under the proviso is seed that has been saved by the farmer to replant his own acreage.5 (We think that limitation is also apparent from the text of the crop exemption, which permits a farm crop from saved seeds to be sold—for nonreproductive purposes—only if those saved seeds were "produced by descent on such farm." (Emphasis added.) It is in our view the proviso in 2543, and not the crop exemption, that authorizes the permitted buyers of saved seeds to sell the crops they produce.) Thus, if a farmer saves seeds to replant his acreage, but for some reason changes his plans, he may instead sell those seeds for replanting under the terms set forth in the proviso (or of course sell them for nonreproductive purposes under the crop exemption).

It remains to discuss one final feature of the proviso authorizing limited sales for reproductive purposes. The proviso allows sales of saved seed for replanting purposes only between persons "whose primary farming occupation is the growing of crops for sale for other than reproductive purposes." The Federal Circuit, which rejected the proposition

5 For crops such as soybeans, in which the seed and the harvest are one and the same, this will mean enough seeds for one year's crop on that acreage. Since the germination rate of a batch of seed declines over time, the soybean farmer will get the year-after-next's seeds from next year's harvest. That is not so for some vegetable crops, in which the seed is not the harvest, and a portion of the crop must be permitted to overripen ("go to seed") in order to obtain seeds. One of the amici in the Court of Appeals asserted (and the parties before us did not dispute) that it is the practice of vegetable farmers to "grow" seeds only every four or five years, and to "brown bag" enough seed for four or five future crops. A vegetable farmer who sets aside protected seed with subsequent replantings in mind, but who later abandons his plan (because he has sold his farm, for example), would under our analysis be able to sell all his saved seed, even though it would plant (in a single year) four or five times his current acreage.


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