(Reuters) - Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, is suing chief rival DuPont, accusing DuPont and its agricultural crop subsidiary of treading on Monsanto’s technological turf by copying key new plant breeding innovations.
Monsanto’s suit claims that a “seed chipping” invention, which it unveiled in 2007 as a way to speed up plant breeding, has been duplicated by DuPont in a “laser-assisted seed selection” tool introduced in 2008. Monsanto claims its business is suffering “irreparable harm” as a result.
DuPont spokesman Dan Turner said the lawsuit was “without merit.”
“Monsanto continues to use litigation in an attempt to limit Pioneer from being an effective competitor,” he said. “This tactic has not worked in previous cases, and it will not work in this matter.”
Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher said the company would not comment on its lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.
Monsanto is seeking a permanent injunction and treble damages for what it calls “willful infringement.”
Monsanto’s robotic seed chipper allows it to individually test every seed in its plant breeding programs for selection of desired characteristics and to develop stacks of traits in its seed products.
The company said it has used this technology in the development of its Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans, and has more than a dozen patents in place dating back to 2004.
It calls a patent application by DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International a “copycat” application.
Both companies say their technology allows for precise sampling of individual seeds for genetic analysis while leaving enough seed intact for planting.
Monsanto claims the copied technology was used by DuPont in development of its Optimum AQUAmax corn, which DuPont launched last year. DuPont markets the corn as helping deliver a yield advantage in water-limited environments.
Monsanto claims DuPont is also planning to use the technology in China for seed production there.
The lawsuit by Monsanto is but the latest in a series of court battles between the corporate giants as they battle over the lucrative global market for agricultural seed, particularly corn.
Both are racing to identify genetic traits to improve seeds and get them to market as high grain prices and increasing global demand for food and energy push farmers to raise production of key crops.
DuPont’s Pioneer seed unit last year sued Monsanto claiming it infringed on patents that help genetically modified corn seeds germinate.
The case is Monsanto Co. and Monsanto Technology LLC v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co. 12cv1090, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, St. Louis.
Reporting By Carey Gillam; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer