Continuing Our Train of Thought

June 27th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Laws always have a hard time keeping up with rapid changes in society and technology. In many ways, this is a good thing. Laws should be deliberate, not reactionary. Sometimes, however, a slow pace can be destructive.

Which is why, like music clearances, you’re going to be hearing more about patent infringements. Which, by the way, are not the same as copyright infringements. Patents are ideas. The problem is that some ideas are not unique. Just as a thousand monkeys might eventually produce the works of Shakespeare (though, we hope, with more modern spelling), two minds might light upon the same solution for a problem. It’s all a matter of who patents the idea first. The other hapless soul then becomes an infringer.

This happens frequently enough that a cottage industry for litigation has developed. Since there’s no good way for managing patents or researching patents, the industry will soon become mansion-sized. It’s something we find fascinating — especially when put into simple literary terms:

Here’s one example of a hypothetical literary patent:

Claim 1: a communication process that represents, in the mind of a reader, the concept of a character who has been in jail for a long time and becomes bitter towards society and humankind.

Claim 2: a communication process according to claim 1, wherein said character subsequently finds moral redemption through the kindness of another.

Claim 3: a communication process according to claims 1 and 2, wherein said character changes his name during the story.

If such a patent had existed in 1862 when Les Mis̩rables was published, the novel would have infringed all three claims Рall these things happened to Jean Valjean in the novel. Hugo could have been sued, and would have lost. The novel could have been prohibited Рin effect, censored Рby the patent holder.

. . .

Who would the patent holders have been? They could have been other novelists, perhaps Dumas or Balzac, who had written such novels – but not necessarily.

It’s something to consider as we revisit our patent laws and processes.

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