Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Monsanto's fan mail for Bitter Greens Journal

The Bitter Greens Journal, featured in the sidebar, received an interesting letter from Monsanto about the weblog's column entitled, "Roundup, ready." This opinion column, an occasional feature from the weblog's writer, farmer and journalist Tom Philpott, includes critical coverage of the biotechnology giant.

Dear Mr. Philpott,

I am the trademark and copyright attorney for Monsanto Company, the owner of the Roundup Ready(R) trademark. The attached link is to the Bitter Greens Journal which features the name "Roundup, ready" as the title of one of its features. Roundup Ready(R) is a well known trademark which is registered by Monsanto not only in the United States, but in many countries throughout the word [sic]. As you have pointed out in the column, Roundup Ready(R) is famous in the agricultural industry.

While you have stated in your column that you chose the name "Roundup, ready" in honor of Monsanto's famed line of seeds, we must object to this use and request that you change the name for the following reasons:

1) You are using our trademark without our consent. This use of the term could cause your readers to think that your journal is in some way sponsored by Monsanto or that Monsanto supports the positions set out in your journal.

2) You are using our trademark in an incorrect manner (with a comma and in a way that genericizes the mark). This weakens our trademark rights.

I would appreciate your confirmation that you will change the name of this column and cease using "Roundup, ready" or any form of our trademark as the name of a feature or in an incorrect manner in your journal. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter.


Very truly yours,


Barb Bunning-Stevens
Assistant General Counsel - Trademarks

I have no idea why Monsanto would want to encourage increased attention to a critic's coverage of its Roundup Ready products. Roundup Ready is a trademark for seeds that have been genetically modified to survive treatment with Monsanto's high-selling herbicide, Roundup. This herbicide actually has some environmental advantages by comparison to some of its competitors, but until Roundup Ready seeds came along, the herbicide also had the disadvantage of indiscriminately killing the field crops on which farmers might like to apply it. Even those of us with high hopes for new agricultural technologies as one possible approach to preventing worldwide hunger and agro-environmental decline couldn't help but be dismayed when the purpose of one of the most important early commercial successes for genetically modified crops was to permit greater sales of Monsanto herbicides!

Paradoxically, threats from Monsanto lawyers may draw yet more coverage of Monsanto's legal tactics and increase the number of places in the world wide web that provide links to this report on Monsanto's longstanding campaign of lawsuits against farmers. Can this really serve Monsanto's corporate interest?

As for the possibility of confusion between Philpott's weblog and Monsanto's trademark property, I don't believe a word of it. Or, at least, I won't believe a word of it until Philpott starts marketing seeds for his little-known genetically modified bitter greens. Where can I get me some of those?

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