Ming the Mechanic:
What if patents applied to literature

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 What if patents applied to literature2005-03-17 13:14
38 comments
by Flemming Funch

Software patents is a crazy obstacle in software development. In many jurisdictions one can "patent" some operation one does in software, like being able to sell books by one click, or using two clicks to select something. All of which makes it very difficult for a programmer to just solve some problem the logical way, as one in principle needs an army of lawyers to first verify that one didn't accidentally violate somebody's patent. Now, one way of seeing the sillyness in this is to consider what would happen if one could acquire patents on literature. Kuro5hin article here.
Arthur Conan Doyle's patent on detective fiction would have expired long ago, but not before preventing Agatha Christie's career. C.S. Lewis' patent on the fantasy novel would have discouraged Tolkien's already reluctant publishers. Without this inspiration, the fantasy trilogies that fill an entire wall in every bookshop would never have been written.

Today we would have patents on smaller and smaller points of style or story. Every opening scene, every surprise ending, every combination of characters, every imaginative sex scene would be protected by a patent.

How could any budding author know what story ideas were already 'owned'? No one could expect him to have read every novel published in the previous 25 years! His profession would have become a minefield. Every day he would fear some lawyer 'discovering' that the hero of his latest story was actually covered by a patent owned by an author he'd never heard of, from a book he'd never read.
See, that's really the same thing. The idea of a patent made some sense when we were talking about physical devices, and it was reasonable to give the inventor a few years to develop it themselves, before their competitiors could just copy it. But it becomes insanity when we're talking about simple and obvious software development techniques. Just like it would be crazy if I could patent a sentence in the English language, or a plot point in a book.


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38 comments

27 Mar 2005 @ 14:21 by taranga @217.158.116.199 : European software patents
would it not be a good idea to alert your readers [though they may not need it] to the various online petitions against MS's underhand attempts to get the EU patent laws changed to include software - mainly to fight back against the growth of linux.  


27 Mar 2005 @ 14:22 by ming : Patents
Certainly. It is fairly well covered elsewhere, but would be good with a summary of the issues.  


23 Jun 2005 @ 10:55 by rayon : Patients in English
There should be as many different ways to express something as there are people on the planet. It is an indicative trait that within the English language this can be reduced down just to a type of event, rather than style of expression.  


8 Mar 2006 @ 08:35 by james @59.144.154.149 : patent searching resource
I saw that you have a page that discusses patent-related resources at http://ming.tv/flemming2.php/__show_article/_a000010-001490.htm. I wanted to suggest adding www.freepatentsonline.com to the page. This web site has free PDF downloading (instead of having to page through TIFFs like at the US PTO). It is by far the best free patent searching site.  


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