Like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and its lawsuit against the American Red Cross, Monsanto (NYSE:MON) is in a sticky situation. It needs to protect its intellectual property but at the same time not look like a big corporate bully that's picking on the little guy.

In its most recent patent dispute, with a grain-elevator co-op in Missouri, Monsanto seems to have accomplished what it needed to while keeping its public image mostly intact. The co-op agreed to stop saving seeds and will even have a third party come in and train workers about how not to save seeds. Sounds like a rather short training to me: "First take the seeds out of the field and then sell them. That's how you don't save seeds." But I digress.

The co-op will also pay an undisclosed amount of money, but Monsanto's not taking the cash. Instead the money is going to fund college scholarships for local students that have an interest in agriculture. Nice touch, Monsanto; make the co-op hurt where it counts, but don't look like the bad guy by taking the money.

Monsanto has filed about 125 lawsuits to stop patent infringement and it's been able to avoid court in all but eight of those cases. While it's won all eight of the cases, I imagine the company will continue to avoid court -- and the associated bad press -- whenever possible.

Perhaps more than any other industry, seed makers like Monsanto, Syngenta (NYSE:SYT), and DuPont (NYSE:DD) have to defend their intellectual property because their products are so easily reproduced. It's not the seed that farmers are buying -- you and I could produce them in our backyards -- it's the technology inside the seed that makes them valuable.

Because of historical seed-saving practices, Monsanto and the rest of the agricultural biotech companies have to walk a fine line. The companies have to make sure that the farmers understand that they've pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into developing the seeds and therefore farmers can't just buy them once and propagate them. But they've got to do it in a way that doesn't upset their customers.

So far, so good for Monsanto.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Johnson & Johnson is a selection of the Income Investor newsletter. The Fool has a disclosure policy.