We'll begin at the beginning… unlike the individual who wrote application number 20050244804. The abstractwhich, to be clear, is not formally part of the patent, but is instead only supposed to help classify the patent and find similar patentsreads:
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.1
To begin with, note the disjuncture between what the abstract says it is claiming ("a process of relaying a story") and what the abstract actually indicates it is claiming (a character in a specific context). This problem will become important later.
Now, let's take a look at the claims. The claims are the heart of a patent, just as the description of the invention itself that follows is the brain. This particular patent, though, is heartless. Please excuse the long quotation; it's necessary for the points that follow.
1. A process of relaying a story having a timeline and a unique plot involving characters, comprising: indicating a character's desire at a first time in said 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 said first time until a particular event occurs; indicating said character's substantial inability at a time after said occurrence of said particular event to recall substantially all events during the time period from said first time to said occurrence of said particular event; and indicating that during said time period said character was an active participant in a plurality of events.
2. A process of relaying a story as in claim 1, comprising: indicating that said particular event has occurred at a second time in said timeline at least one week after said first time; and indicating said character's substantial inability at a time after said second time to recall substantially all events during the time period from said first time to said second time.
3. A process of relaying a story as in claim 2, wherein said second time is at least one year after said first time.
4. A process of relaying a story as in claim 1, wherein said particular event is at least one of: a passing of a particular amount of time; a notification of a decision; and a relief of a pain.
5. A process of relaying a story as in claim 1, wherein said plurality of events comprises at least one of said character's wedding, a birth of a child of said character, and performance of said character's occupation for a substantial portion of said time period.
6. A process of relaying a story as in claim 1, further comprising indicating a belief held by at least three other characters that said character was conscious during said active participation in said plurality of events.
7. A process of relaying a story as in claim 1, wherein each of said steps of indicating comprises indicating in a written form.
8. A process of relaying a story as in claim 1, wherein each of said steps of indicating comprises indicating in a video form.
9. A process of relaying a story as in claim 8, wherein said process is a process of displaying a motion picture having a timeline and a unique plot, comprising: displaying a video representation of an actor acting as said character; displaying a video representation of said actor indicating at said first time in said timeline a desire for said at least one of a) and b); displaying a video representation of an indication that said particular event has occurred at a second time in said timeline; displaying a video representation of said actor indicating at a time after said second time a substantial inability to recall substantially all events during the time period from said first time to said second time; and displaying a video representation of an indication that during said time period said character was an active participant in a plurality of events.
This bit of drivel continues on through claim 20 without much greater specificity… except as it applies to the film industry.
The first, and most obvious, problem with this sequence is that the claims are not for processes, but for the resultor, rather, for something that from a sixth-grade book report might appear to be the result. In another persona, I commented on this problem some time back. The application attempts to deflect attention from this problem by calling its subject matter a "storyline," but that attempt remains insufficient. Calling something a "process" doesn't make it a "process."
The second problem with the cited sequenceand it is a problem that only gets worse farther down the chain of claimsis that the individual who drafted the patent fails to understand anything about storytelling. Compare claims 7 and 8 for a moment, and look for anything but parallel claims (if, that is, you can force yourself to read this nonsense). Note that "spoken form," "audio form," "sculptural form," "graphic form," and every other possible way of telling a story remain unclaimed. Under ordinary circumstances, this shouldn't matter much; claim 1 would cover those forms. These are not ordinary circumstances, though.
The second main segment of the application is Mr Knight's polemical attempt to apply patent law to what he calls "artistic inventions." See U.S. Pat. App. 20050244804 at desc. 00090015. Leaving aside for the moment that the constitutional authority for intellectual property explicitly distinguishes between "writings" and "inventions" in a way that one cannot force to overlap without substantial intellectual dishonesty, Mr Knight's argument fails because he establishes a false dichotomy.
Said another way: the value of a singer's performance or a dancer's performance or a writer's performance or an artist's performance is in the performance, while the value of an inventor's invention is in the invention, not a single instance, embodiment, expression, or performance of the invention. The value of a performance is protected by copyright; the value of an invention is not.
The problem here is the use of the term "performance." Writers are not performers under the rubric Mr Knight would establish; they are, instead, an unconsidered case between the "performance" and the "invention." Calling a book a "performance" fails at a pretty obvious level. Calling a script a "performance" does so, too. In both instances, existing law explicitly denies that the copyrighted "work" is necessarily a "performance." Compare La Cienega Music Co. v. ZZ Top, 53 F.3d 950 (9th Cir. 1995) with Pub. L. No. 10580, § 11, 111 Stat. 1534 (Nov. 17, 1997) (codified as 17 U.S.C. § 303(b) (2004) ("The distribution before January 1, 1978, of a phonorecord shall not for any purpose constitute a publication of the musical work embodied therein").
Last, and far from least, the "summary of the invention" makes clear that it has not been reduced to practice by the inventor. The application is therefore premature and must be denied on a procedural basis.2 Further, the frivolous nature of the application is apparent from the language in the "summary" itself. For example:
A preferred embodiment of the present plot invention will now be described. The setting is preferably some time between the present and fifty years ago, although preferably about 20 to 40 years ago, in a suburban section of the United States. Of course, these details, as well as any other detail described herein, may be altered without deviating from the scope of the present invention. The protagonist or main character is a man who, in the initial setting, is a teenage boy. He is very motivated and a diligent student, and has dreamed for many years of attending college at one particularly well-known and prestigious school, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His father is a successful lawyer who wishes him to also pursue law, but the boy observes his father's unending work schedule and high stress level, and determines to seek a different, more exciting, more rewarding path in life. During his junior or senior year of high school, he applies to MIT. He expresses to his girlfriend his explosive desire to be accepted; a few weeks before the expected arrival of his admissions decision letter, he tells her how he simply can't wait any longer, that his anticipation has consumed his every thought. That night, he convinces himself that he wants to leap over the time until the admissions letter arrivesthat he doesn't want to experience anything else until it arrivesthat he just wants to go to sleep and not wake up until it does. He falls asleep.
(emphasis added) And here is where the patent application fails permanently of its own weight, and cannot be revived. By changing the details, and only the details, one might succeed (at least in theory) in remaining within the bounds of "progress in science." However, that would not result in "progress in the useful arts," because art is about details. A sixth-grade-book-report level of detailwhich, frankly, is greater than the level of detail described in the applicationstill would not suffice for a person skilled in the art of storytelling to reproduce the invention. That's the point of art: It is in the details.
So, then, storytellers, here is my reaction to Mr Knight's disingenuous and intellectually dishonest patent application:
Back to your lives, citizens. Move along. There's nothing to see here.
And no, that would not infringe any aspect of a "patent" on Toy Story.
- I will refrain from criticizing the poor writing (for example, the last word before the colon should be "comprising," not "comprises"). On the one hand, the poor writing implies failure to reduce the "invention" to practice. On the other hand, the poor writing typifies patent applications, and indeed legal writing in general.
- Patent applications must be filed within one year after reduction to practice, with a few exceptions that don't apply in this instance. Interestingly, the failure to reduce the invention to practice should also bar any claims for any other forms; that is, if Mr Knight had written a story, but not produced a film, he could not claim the film as part of his invention. The key point, though, is that reduction to practice must precede the application.