Storyline Patents Put To The Test? Or Just Proving A Point Through Absurdism?

from the making-a-point? dept

Over the summer when the EU was arguing over software patents, Richard Stallman wrote up an opinion piece pointing out just how clueless the politicians involved were. In defending patents, one politician clearly didn’t understand the difference between patents and copyrights, as the politician used Victor Hugo’s written works as a reason to fight for patents. Stallman came back, noting that if patents covered storylines than Hugo never would have been able to write Les Miserables as the storyline would have been patented already. Well, now, that concept may be put to the test. Slashdot is pointing out that the USPTO is supposedly about to publish the first storyline patents. There are a few things about this story that (a) are wrong or (b) are unclear. The /. piece makes it sound like these patents have been granted. Instead, they’re just being published, which is part of the regular patent process, before a decision is made one way or the other. There’s still a very good chance that these patents won’t get anywhere, because (one hopes) the patent office would recognize the ridiculousness of this all. The other thing worth noting is that the “source” for this is a press release from the guy who’s applied for the patent. His website contains a long, and somewhat bizarre, legal defense behind the idea of patenting storylines, including some hilarious statements: “There is currently little motivation for artistic inventors to innovate new plots, themes, and methods of expression.” Reading through the pages, you get the feeling that this is satire through patent application. There is, of course, the possibility that this guy is serious, but I’m hoping that this is more of an attempt by him to point out how ridiculous things like software patents are by taking the concept to the logical absurd extreme: patenting storylines. Of course, these days, with the way the patent office acts (and the way patent trolls abuse the system), what seems absurd has often actually been ridiculously serious in the past. Hopefully, this isn’t one of those cases. Of course, even if this guy is doing it to prove a point about other patents, it’s not clear if many will get the point or actually do anything to fix things like software patents.

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Comments on “Storyline Patents Put To The Test? Or Just Proving A Point Through Absurdism?”

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deadheadjpa (user link) says:

Re: No Subject Given

the really troubling USPTO practice is the patenting of Buisness Methods, art unit 705 which became more established following the CAFC State Street decison
Full Disclosure:
*** i am employed as a paralegal for an IP firm embroiled in litigation involving buisness methods patents &%$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

The USPTO now has an entire section devoted to buisness methods,
excerpt of main page:

Patent Business Methods

Welcome to Technology Center 3600’s Business Method Web Site. This site is specifically designed to provide you with current information on Business Method-related patent issues. We are making every effort to deliver this information in an easily accessible format, and hope that you find it helpful in answering your questions regarding business method patent-related topics.

John J. Love
Director, Technology Center 3600

Announcement of Spring 2005 Business Methods Partnership Meeting
Prior Art in the Field of Business Method Patents – When is an Electronic Document a Printed Publication for Prior Art Purposes?
Questions and Answers from the July, 2002 Business Methods Partnership Meeting
Thank You to Our Training Volunteers and Request for Additional Training [PPS]
November, 2001 Partnership Meeting Newsletter
Federal Register Notice – Notice of Search Criteria for Class 705 [PDF]
Successfully Preparing and Prosecuting a Business Method Patent Application
Trilateral Business Methods Comparative Study – 6/26/2000
March 2000 Director Initiatives
Business Methods White Paper
Class 705 Classification Definitions
Class 705 core databases
Class 705 Managers/Contacts/Art Units
Class 705 Application Filing and Patents Issued Data
103 Rejection Examples for Business Method Inventions
USPTO Today Article – Business Method Fiscal Year 2001 Statistics
For the Revised Examination Guidelines for Computer Implemented Inventions, click here and go to MPEP 2106
Inventor Resources web site
State Street Bank decision
AT&T v. Excel decision
Training Materials for Computer- Implemented Inventions

There are a plethora of more competent folks monitoring the circus, EFF in particular is outstanding and their are several IP patent lawyers who really do the heavy lifting in their blogs see

Patently-O: Patent Law Blog
by Dennis Crouch, patent attorney at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP.

With respect to copyrights and the grokster decison the following law review journal article makes some interesting points:

Can the RIAA Survive
?Substantial Non-Infringing Uses??
This Note discusses peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing cases as they relate to rights in digital media. The recent problems involving P2P stem from the Supreme Court Sony-Betamax
case of 1984. This piece takes issue with the scope of the
Sony decision and several other notable cases in this
context, and discusses the proper standard to be applied in
cases involving charges of contributory copyright
infringement. The Seventh Circuit gives Sony a plausible
reading by balancing the intent of software distributors and
the harms to rights holders?an approach mandated by the
Court in Sony, and soon to be revisited in Grokster.
Conversely, the Ninth Circuit glosses over the import of the
Sony decision by ignoring intent and, more importantly, by
disregarding the feasibility of balancing the parties?
respective interests with the potential harms to the parties.
This Note suggests that courts faced with the defense of
substantial non-infringing uses should employ a fact-
intensive approach utilizing the balancing of interests
mandate given by the Court in Sony, or in the alternative, that legislative action may be necessary. The discussion concludes with some final remarks about the direction of the doctrine, and offers some possible solutions for content
owners to stave off unauthorized distribution of protected
? 2005 Virginia Journal of Law & Technology Association, at http://www.vjolt.netparagraph numbers for pinpoint citations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wait, patenting storylines would be great

It would stop Hollywood producing films based around the same old tired formulae until twenty years after the original patented version.
Of course, if there’s been a new and non-obvious storyline produced by hollywood in the last decade which might potentially have been patented, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.
To be honest, I don’t see the problem with storyline patents. You’d have to put so much detail into your claim to avoid the centuries of prior art out there that the patent would be useless. Why not let idiots who want to try to patent such things throw their money at the government?
Here’s an example. Let’s say Disney had wanted to patent “The Lion King” as a storyline. Well, that story shows a remarkable similarity to Hamlet, so the patent claim would need to avoid describing that. I suppose claim 1 could be “hamlet with animals”, which would at least be new, but since Disney have been re-doing famous stories replacing human characters with animals for ages, such a claim would be obvious. OK, so how about a claim 1 “Hamlet where the character of Hamlet is a lion cub”. Now that could potentially be patented as a lion is arguably not an obvious choice (I always saw hamlet as a goofy bird).
As a result, we couldn’t retell Hamlet and replace Hamlet with a lion cub until the patent had expired. Ooh, how terrible! I’m really worried and I’m feeling totally unable to express myself artistically because of this patent! (not!) Patents on storylines are a ridiculous concept not because they’d damage society, but because they’d be completely useless!
So I say grant him his patent, let him and other idiots like him waste his money.

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