Storyline Patents: A Godsend Or A Restriction On Creativity And Individual Expression

The US Patent Office has published an application for a “storyline patent,” that could potentially offer protection for one’s creative ideas, rather than just the expression of those ideas.

 The applicant, rocket engine inventor and registered patent agent, Andrew Knight filed the application in November 2003. The subject of Knight’s Patent is a tale entitled The Zombie Stare, which features a boy who, in anticipation of his college admission prays to remain asleep until his letter arrives. Upon waking the boy discovers that he has been asleep for thirty years,

however it transpires that, to onlookers he has carried on his life as normal, but yet he has no memory of the past three decades.

 In order to protect the entire ambit of his ideas Knight has drafted the abstract in much greater detail than the above synopsis:

 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:Â

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,” the 14 page application states.

 If the story is granted protection, scripts, books and plays could all be enveloped by the expansion of US patent law. Currently under the ambit of copyright law, an idea cannot be protected only the expression of an idea can be copyrighted. In practice a plotline or story could be retold in a variety of different settings, ages or cultures, with different characters and names, thereby making the initial storey unrecognisable.

 It is arguable that every storey, film or play written in the last few hundred years, only harks back to the themes tensions relationships and emotions that Shakespeare so perfectly captured 400 years ago. The danger of allowing such an application could lead to a severe restriction on individual creativity and expression, the key reason for intellectual property rights.

Knight argues that a number of recent films could have been eligible for patent protection, such as Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, both of which deal with memory loss, however significantly Knight maintains that as examples of the prior art neither film will prevent him from gaining a monopoly right.

 In support of his argument Knight refers to an article that appeared in the Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office in late 2004, entitled A Potentially New IP: Storyline Patents. Knight compares storyline patents to software patents, which unlike the UK can be granted in the United States.

 According to Jay Thomas, a law professor at Georgetown University: Â

“The case law of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has established that virtually any subject is potentially patentable.”

 Moreover Co-Chair of the Patent Prosecution Practice at Greenberg Traurig LLP, Charles Berman argues:

 “Due to the broad scope of patentable subject matter, novel storylines may fall within the [utility requirement].”

 Despite the potential restrictions that such a patent application could have on creativity and expression, budding writers may also welcome such a reform because currently a script or play could be altered and reproduced without any reward or consideration for the original author. However under US patent law a protected script would give the author clear ownership over the story in question and variations of said story, thereby preventing it from being appropriated. Â

The outcome of Knight’s application is expected towards the end of November.

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