Story-line patent could hurt the ability of writers to create new stories
e-Media Wire is reporting that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has published history’s first “storyline patent” application. The utility patent application, filed by Andrew Knight in November, 2003, seeks to protect a fictional storyline from use by other writers.
According to the article, "Knight, a rocket engine inventor, registered patent agent, and graduate of MIT and Georgetown Law, will assert publication-based provisional patent rights against anyone whose activities may fall within the scope of his published claims, including all major motion picture manufacturers and distributors, book publishers and distributors, television studios and broadcasters, and movie theaters."
While Knight's patent application focuses on a specific storyline (dealing with zombies and a man who wakes up after sleeping for decades), this is an extremely serious issue fo writers. Until now, writers have been able to write about anything they want to because copyright and trademark laws specifically forbid protecting this type of generality. In short, specific works can be copyrighted but ideas can not be covered. However, patent law is more inclusive, as seen by the numerous "business method practices" patents of the last decade, which cover business processes such as online shopping. If the patent office allows this application, you can bet that other storylines will be protected until eventually writers may face the loss of any area of life about which they write. Since there are supposedly only seven basic story plots, the loss of even a few generalized plots would seriously hamper writers.
I strongly suggest that people protest this patent application by contacting the U.S. Patent Office. You can also download the paperwork to protest this application. Unfortunately, it appears that it may be late in the game to start protesting this, but I'd bet that if writers raise a stink and cry about this Knight's patent application will have a tougher time of making it through.
It should be noted that Andrew Knight is taking this extremely seriously, as seen by his firm Knight and Associates , which calls itself "the first patent prosecution firm to attempt to obtain utility patent protection on fictional plots." Evidently Knight and Associates is "ready to turn valuable new fictional plots or storylines into U.S. utility patent applications." They are doing this for Knight's zombie plot despite what Manxom Vroom has suggested (namely that the plot, which features a man sleeping for 30 years, was written long ago and is called "Rip Van Winkle").
What really irritates me about this patent application is that it implies there is something difficult about coming up with an idea or general plot for a story. Writers meet people all the time who believe this. They're the ones who, upon learning that you are a writer, say, "I have a great idea for a novel. If you write it, I'll split the money with you." These people believe that coming up with the idea for a story is the hardest part about being a writer.
The truth is that writing a story is hard. Ideas and plots are a dime a dozen.
This must be stopped.
Follow-up: Here is an interesting analysis of the defects in this patent application, along with other thoughts on patenting plots and storylines, from a patent attorney named C.E. Petit.