imaginary family values presents

yesh omrim

a blog that reclines to the left


I have this great idea for a story…

6 November 2005

So there’s this engineer turned patent lawyer, a devotee of Ayn Rand who “occasionally dabble[s] in fiction”. Realizing that he has no talent for telling stories, he concludes that his true genius is for coming up with plot lines for stories that other people can tell.

Copyright law, the system that has satisfied other literary creators for the past few centuries, would not give this brilliant young man his just reward. Even if he copyrighted a story with one of his brilliant plots, someone else with mere storytelling talent could write another book with essentially the same plot, change enough details to avoid violating the copyright, and walk off with millions.

Fortunately, our hero has a solution: patent his plot! Applying his crackerjack legal talents, he writes an essay arguing that patentable plots is a logical application of recent precedents in American patent law. Furthermore, he argues, if such patents are granted, the change in the law “will spur an array of never-seen-before, never-experienced-before, intellectually inspiring forms of entertainment”, perhaps involving novel combinations of genetically engineered bacteria, one-click commerce, and a pony.

(OK, at this point, I’m having trouble figuring out how to get my readers to suspend their disbelief, even for a parody like this. A patentable process is supposed to be not only original and non-obvious, but useful. Even if you think software patents are a blight on the American legal system, it’s hard to deny that, say, public-key encryption [US Patent 4,405,829] is useful. But how is a patent examiner supposed to distinguish a useful plot from a non-useful one?)

Putting his application fees where is mouth is, our hero applies for a patent on “A process of relaying a story having a timeline and a unique plot involving characters comprises: indicating a character’s desire at a first time in the timeline for at least one of the following: a) to remain asleep or unconscious until a particular event occurs; and b) to forget or be substantially unable to recall substantially all events during the time period from the first time until a particular event occurs; indicating the character’s substantial inability at a time after the occurrence of the particular event to recall substantially all events during the time period from the first time to the occurrence of the particular event; and indicating that during the time period the character was an active participant in a plurality of events.”

(If you have trouble substantially recalling the sentence you just read, don’t worry. I’ll rewrite it in the next draft.)

I’m not yet sure how this story should end. The options I can think of so far are:

  1. The patent is denied, and the applicant spends the next few decades ranting about the unfairness of it all on Usenet.
  2. The patent is granted, but our protagonist can’t find anyone interested in licensing it. He finally hires a ghostwriter to embody his patented plot in a novel, and has the novel published by a vanity press. It sells about fifty copies.
  3. The patent is granted, and the industry takes notice. Within two years, every Hollywood studio and New York publishing house boasts about the size of its patent portfolio. Within five years, American cultural production has ground to a screeching halt; like the Wright brothers, everyone is too busy angling for the best licensing deal, or tying up their competitors with litigation, to actually publish a new book or distribute a new movie. Americans resort to bootleg films from India.
Can anyone help me out here? I’ll credit you as a co-inventorauthor.

via Groklaw and Slashdot