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By Carey Gillam
(Reuters) - A group of U.S. farmers, seed companies and others challenging patents on genetically altered crops held by biotech seed giant Monsanto Co. on Thursday appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The group, made up of 73 organic and conventional family farmers, seed companies and public advocacy interests, sued Monsanto in March 2011 seeking to prohibit the company from suing them if their fields became contaminated with Monsanto's patented genetic traits for corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, and other crops.
The biotech crops are widely used throughout the United States, and Monsanto has sued more than 100 farmers for patent infringement, winning judgments against farmers found to have made use of its seed without paying required royalties.
Monsanto has said it will not sue farmers if they do not intentionally use the technology without paying for it. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a previous ruling that found organic growers had no reason to try to block Monsanto from suing them as the company had pledged it would not take them to court if biotech crops accidentally mixed in with theirs.
Monsanto said in a statement issued Thursday that the farmers were trying to create a controversy where none exists.
"The District Court ruled and Court of Appeals affirmed that there was no controversy between the parties," the company said in a statement. "There is neither a history of behavior nor a reasonable likelihood that Monsanto will pursue patent infringement against farmers who have no interest in using the company's patented seed products."
But those pushing the court action said Monsanto's patents were invalid, and its biotech crops damaging to the environment and to farmers who suffer contamination.
"It behooves the Supreme Court to hear this important case to protect America's farmers from abusive patent infringement lawsuits and invalidate Monsanto's flawed patents as their products have been shown to be damaging to human health and the environment and failed to live up to the marketing hype," Dave Murphy, founder of the advocacy group Food Democracy Now, a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement.
(Reporting By Carey Gillam; editing by Andrew Hay)