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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monsanto, DuPont Escalate Patent Fray

By The Wall Street Journal

The war of words between crop biotechnology rivals Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., which are locked in a patent infringement suit in a St. Louis federal court, is reaching new heights.

Monsanto Chief Executive Hugh Grant sent a letter Monday to DuPont Chairman Charles O. Holliday Jr. complaining that the Wilmington, Del., chemical giant's efforts to paint St. Louis-based Monsanto as a monopolist is "misleading to the public and a serious breach of business ethics far beyond honest competitor behavior."

Mr. Grant's "Dear Chad" letter asks that DuPont name a committee of independent directors to investigate Monsanto allegations that DuPont is using "masked third parties" to "attack" Monsanto.

As previously reported, Monsanto executives are upset that, among other things, DuPont gives financial support to a small farmer group called the Organization for Competitive Markets, which is attacking Monsanto's decade-long dominance over genetically modified seeds. Earlier this month, a senior Justice Department official told the group's annual convention that the Obama administration is examining competition issues throughout agriculture, including the marketing of genetically modified seed.

DuPont spokesman Anthony Farina said Tuesday that DuPont will respond to Mr. Grant's letter "in an appropriate manner."

The vast majority of genetically modified crops grown in the U.S. farm belt contain at least one Monsanto gene. Through biotechnology, Monsanto has been able to woo farmers away from other seed suppliers including DuPont.

DuPont has complained to government officials about Monsanto's 2007 acquisition of cotton seed giant Delta and Pine Land.

In the suit, Monsanto claims DuPont illegally stacked a Monsanto gene with a DuPont gene to create a herbicide-tolerant soybean plant. DuPont says Monsanto is trying to block such plant combinations to limit competition.