My View From The Country

Hey, Kids, Want To Work In Ag? Go To Law School

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A lawyer specializing in dealing with proprietary information and/or technology issues in agriculture will have plenty of work in the years ahead.

In a nutshell, the private entity used numbers and EPDs produced by breed associations, put their twist to them, and came up with an easy-to-understand way of presenting that data on commercial cattle. Verified Beef's aim is to help producers capture more revenue for their cattle by providing the capability to describe their cattle’s genetic potential more accurately. Some breed associations decided to partner with Verified Beef on the concept, ASA chose not to.

The Verified Beef concept has been around for decades and the indexes and theories that went into the concept have been around even longer yet. It’s a great concept, and one that everyone’s talked about for decades – namely, the ability to transfer the genetic information of the cattle through the marketing system in a manner that doesn’t impede commerce and is considered reliable by buyers. This private company’s business model apparently does that, which means it not only has the potential to reap some good profits, but will help the industry move closer to the value-based model it’s long held as the ideal.

In my opinion, it’s a great concept, a good business, and something I think that truly adds value. Where it gets complicated is when it comes to proprietary information, patents, and precluding competition from entering the business place. Every business in the world understands the value of creating barriers of entry into their marketplace, and protecting intellectual property is vitally important in the information age.

This is kind of a complicated topic to explain. The best analogy I can think of is to use Certified Angus Beef (CAB) as an illustration. CAB was one of the first ventures to take the concept of branding a beef product, creat   extra value and make it viable from a business model standpoint. The lead position that CAB garnered by being first to the marketplace, and the program’s success in delivering on that model, have made the CAB program the undisputed king of branded-beef products.

If Verified Beef is able to execute its vision, it will likely be the market leader for years to come. However, it’s taken a unique approach relative to the marketplace in agriculture in that it’s tried to essentially patent the idea, thus precluding anyone from entering the marketplace. I think it would be similar to CAB claiming it came up with the idea of branding a beef product, and thus claiming that no other entity could do the same. As I said, we’re in a new era – an era of proprietary information and legal wrangling.

One thing I know for certain is that a lawyer specializing in dealing with proprietary information/technology issues in agriculture should have plenty of work in the years ahead. It isn’t necessarily a good thing, but in this new era we've entered, two of the largest breed associations in the country either are, or should be, putting aside significant dollars for the legal battles that are looming. I’m not sure the industry will benefit from this new and inevitable environment, but the lawyers certainly will do okay.

When I was a kid, my mom encouraged me to be an orthodontist. Naturally, being a teenager at that obstinate stage, I thought it was a horrible idea. So driving on the way home last night, when my kids were talking about their futures, I casually stated to them, "Whatever you do, don’t go into intellectual property issues and law." You never know, perhaps a little reverse psychology will work on them. 

Troy Marshall’s opinions are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on May 9, 2014

Troy you reflect my view. The hardest thing to find is a lawyer who understands Ag. Ranching next to a million people (Tucson) I've experienced a weak defense because of my lawyer's lack of knowledge about what I do. I would also add Biologist to the list.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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