OPINION

It’s a Mad, Mad, IP World

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was to publish the world’s first “storyline patent” application yesterday.

According to Georgetown University law professor Jay Thomas, “The case law of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has established that virtually any subject matter is potentially patentable,” and Andrew Knight extols the idea in an article for the Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office Society.

In “A Potentially New IP: Storyline Patents,” he argues, “Binding case law strongly suggests that methods of performing and displaying fictional plots, whether found in motion pictures, novels, television shows, or commercials, are statutory subject matter, like computer software and business methods.”

Knight even has an algebraic formula for it:

VSPA = VSP x Pissue

… where VSPA is the expected value of a Storyline Patent application, VSP is the average value of an issued Storyline Patent, and Pissue is the average probability of issue.

Next, VSP = VP x Fbreadth(t)

Can of Worms

The first patent application of this nature was lodged back in November 2003. And you don’t get any prizes for guessing who was behind it.

“Every year thousands of potentially patentable plots enter the public domain entirely unprotected,” says Knight on his Web page. “Consider the unique plots of ‘Memento,’ ‘The Thirteenth Floor,’ ‘Being John Malkovich,’ ‘Butterfly Effect,’ ‘The Game,’ ‘Fight Club,’ ‘The Matrix,’ ‘Total Recall,’ ‘The Truman Show,’ ‘Minority Report,’ ‘The Village,’ ‘Groundhog Day,’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ to name a few.”

But fear not because, “Knight and Associates consists of Andrew Knight and a team of independent contractors comprising skilled writers and experienced patent attorneys, ready to turn valuable new fictional plots or storylines into U.S. utility patent applications.”

They’ll help your company “integrate valuable Storyline Patent protection into your portfolio of other IP protection” and “draft and prosecute patent applications on unique storylines, as well as innovations in the fields of mechanical devices, electrical devices, optical devices, medical devices, engines, software, business methods, gadgets, tools, toys, and other consumer products.”

P2pnet’s Alex H. said, “This is perhaps the most reprehensible attempt by an individual to create a job for themselves. Simply create ‘property’ where none existed before, then charge big media companies to look after the chaotic legal issues you’ve created for them.

“What does he have to say for himself? ‘Recognizing that fierce competition for publication and financial reward focused on the quality of storytelling, as opposed to the quality of the underlying storyline itself, and further recognizing that even the world’s most skilled storytellers [of which he is clearly not] rarely turn a profit, his unique fictional storylines have matured into pending patent applications instead of novels or screenplays. He thus seeks reward on the true value of his innovations — the underlying storylines — instead of forced, sub-par expressions of these underlying storylines.”

How Far Can We Go?

So according to Knight, we should now be paying bad writers to use an idea they’ve detailed in a utility patent, says Alex, adding, “The worst part of this is that several academics have theorized that there are only actually seven basic plots that exist in literature.

“Amazon.com says of Christopher Booker’s ‘The Seven Basic Plots,’ “There is literally no story in the world which cannot be seen in a new light: we have come to the heart of what stories are about and why we tell them.”

Unfortunately, if Andrew Knight’s patent application is granted, it won’t be a question of what stories are about, or why we tell them. It’ll be a question of whether we can afford to pay the royalties.

“What’s next?” asks a comment post to Alex’s article. “Patenting the human DNA? Patenting air? Water? Electricity?”

You can contact Andrew Knight at info@plotpatents.com.


Jon Newton, a TechNewsWorld columnist, founded and runs p2pnet.net, based in Canada, a daily peer-to-peer and digital media news site focused on issues surrounding file sharing, the entertainment industry and distributed computing.


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