From Chapter 9:  Seed Wars

Robb Fraley seized on the analogy of the computer industry. A seed was hardware, like the electronic circuits of a computer; Monsantoís gene was the software that would turn it into a useful tool. Just as Microsoft licensed its Windows operating system to computer makers, which in turn sold the entire package to consumers, Monsanto could license its genes to a wide variety of seed companies. Those companies would breed the gene into many different varieties of plants, and sell those seeds to farmers.

It was a seductive analogy, in part because in the early 1990s it was becoming clear that Windows had put Microsoft in the driver's seat of the computer industry. To the surprise of many, software was turning out to be more valuable than hardware. People didnít care so much whether they got a computer from Dell or Gateway, but they had to have a computer that could run Windows. Similarly, said Fraley, farmers were going to demand Bt cotton or Roundup-resistant soybean plants no matter where they went shopping for seeds. Monsanto would be the Microsoft of agriculture.

Unfortunately, the analogy had basic defect. The seed business was nothing like the computer business, in both superficial and fundamental ways. It was fragmented among hundreds of companies, many of them mom-and-pop operations, few of them making significant profits. Like Bríer Rabbit considering the Tar Baby, Monsantoís executives looked at the seed business and saw a backward, inert industry ready for the bracing shock of modern technology. Only dimly did they comprehend the the complexities of creating seed, or how deeply the business is anchored in the immutable nature of biology itself.

Seeds are a paradox at the heart of agriculture. They are precious and irreplaceable, yet cheap. They exist in a twilight world somewhere between private property (like the farmerís tractor, or the chemical herbicides he buys every year) and a public good (like sunlight and rain). The life they somehow hold is the stuff of myth and metaphor. Companies that sell seed do not completely own it, because the seed, by nature, multiplies in the hands of the customer. Just as the Iroquois and Apache once considered it ridiculous and unnatural to own land, so farmers and lawmakers around the world have resisted laws that would convert a kernel of grain completely into intellectual property.