Frankfurt, Germany The European Patent Office ruled Friday that U.S. agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. has the right to patent herbicide-resistant seeds in Europe.
"The patent has, in principle, been confirmed with only a minor technical limitation," said agency spokesman Rainer Osterwalder. "Our patent judges have decided that the Monsanto patent doesn't violate European patent law."
He said a statement on the ruling would be published later this year.
The patent, which was originally given by the Munich, Germany-based office in 1996, applies to Monsanto's Roundup Ready genetically-modified seeds which are, in turn, resistant to the company's Roundup herbicides.
But the patent has been the object of a long legal battle with Swiss biotech firm Syngenta AG and Greenpeace Deutschland, both of which appealed the initial patent in 1997 arguing plant varieties cannot be patented.
There was no immediate comment from either group about the patent office decision.
St. Louis-based Monsanto's genetically-engineered seed sales are booming, and the company expects the growth to continue as it expands outside the United States.
On Wednesday, the company beat expectations and reported that its first-quarter income jumped to $373 million, or $1.37 per share, in the three months ended Feb. 28. That compared with $154 million, or 57 cents a share, a year earlier.
Monsanto shares fell 92 cents to close at $61.45 in Friday trading on the New York Stock Exchange, but are still near their 52-week high of $65.60.