Patent # Give-Me-A-Freaking-Break

Nukees, by Darren Bluel

From Nukees, by Darren Bleuel

It used to be simple: you’d sit down in front of your computer/typewriter/pad of paper/stone tablet and chisel/whatever you use to write with, and you’d write. And when you were finished, assuming that you hadn’t copied important portions of someone else’s book word for word, it was your story: it didn’t matter if it was Yet Another Fantasy About Slaying a Dragon, or Yet Another Space Opera About Overthrowing the Evil Galactic Overlord, it was still legitimately your story.

Heck, some fantasy authors have made their livings — respectable livings — by retelling the Lord of the Rings over and over again. And have copped to it.

Double heck, some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays were based on histories written by Raphael Hollinshed.

That era, it seems, may be something that has passed on; if it has, we can thank the US patent system for it. Just when you think the Patent Office couldn’t get any more incompetent, someone goes and patents a storyline.

Seriously. Patents a storyline.

It’s not officially a patent yet. Right now it’s a “provisional patent,” which means the “inventor” of the storyline may put “patent pending” on the storyline. There’s still a chance that the patent will be rejected outright. If we assume that reason will prevail.

Is this a safe assumption? I don’t feel comfortable making that call.

Groklaw was kind enough to link to the actual patent application:

Process of relaying a story having a unique plot


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.

Story as invention. Author as inventor. While the description sounds rugged and cool and pioneering and all that, what this guy is trying to do is carve out a little piece of the world of ideas and keep it all to himself. And I, besides finding it offensive, think it’s impossible to accomplish: his story outline, while an interesting variation of other ideas, is exactly that — a variation of other ideas.

Waking up to discover that your life has passed you by, and you didn’t know it? That’s been done. His specific implementation of that idea is novel (in my opinion, because I haven’t come across it) but it is a variation of an idea that is already “out there.” It isn’t an innovation, it’s a variation (of a Rip Van Winkle story).

But just because it’s impossible and illogical doesn’t mean it won’t get approved by the USPTO. And hey, there’s a potential boom industry here — you don’t even have to write books in order to make a living this way, you just need to “invent” storylines!

And if you’re an aspiring author (like me) you can embark on a brand new and exciting phase of your not-yet-established career by hiring a lawyer before you publish anything, just to make sure that your story doesn’t violate the storyline of an already patented work! Now that’s how you encourage innovation in the marketplace!

Of course, this is the way things have worked in the software industry for years, and has led many people to say that software patents are broken. No-one has bothered to try and fix it, though, so I guess expanding it into new territories and screwing over entirely new groups of people really is the next logical step.

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