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USPTO Issues Provisional Storyline Patent 453

cheesedog writes "The USPTO will issue the first storyline patent in history today, with two others following in the next few months. Right to Create points out that this was anticipated several months ago in a story by Richard Stallman published in the The Guardian, UK. With the publication of this not-yet-granted patent, its author can begin requiring licensing fees for anyone whose activities might fall within its claims, including book authors, movie studies, television studios and broadcasters, etc. The claims appear to cover the literary elements of a story involving an ambitious high school student who applies for entrance to MIT and prays to remain sleeping until the acceptance letter comes, which doesn't happen for another 30 years."
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USPTO Issues Provisional Storyline Patent

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  • by Mr. Sketch ( 111112 ) <mister.sketch@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday November 04, 2005 @12:34AM (#13947779)
    [wo]man vs. nature
    [wo]man vs. [wo]man
    [wo]man vs. the environment
    [wo]man vs. machines/technology
    [wo]man vs. the supernatural
    [wo]man vs. self
    [wo]man vs. god/religion

    That pretty much covers everything.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 04, 2005 @12:37AM (#13947802)
    Linked article title:

    U.S. Patent Office Publishes the First Patent Application to Claim a Fictional Storyline; Inventor Asserts Provisional Rights Against Hollywood

    Thanks to the posters below, thought I would put it up here so people see it.

    - TheSpoom
  • Followup (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @12:39AM (#13947813) Homepage Journal
    Okay, so they haven't actually granted the patent yet; it's only an application at this stage.

    However, the fact that the USPTO accepted the application at all merely reinforces my assertion: The USPTO is now officially broken.


  • by sharkb8 ( 723587 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @12:44AM (#13947838)
    Novelty and nonobviousness are where prior art comes in. Novelty essentially means that a applicaiton is not exactly the same as another (or a combination of) patent/reference. Unobviousness means that an application is not so close to another (or a combination of) patents and references.

    No way this gets past utility.
  • by jerometremblay ( 513886 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @12:50AM (#13947864) Homepage
    Actually, I really hope it is granted. The more abused the system is, the quicker it will have to be fixed.

    Maybe the MPAA and RIAA will have to put those lawers to a good use for once.
  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @12:54AM (#13947886)
    You think that's bad, wait until you realize that this means that books written outside the US will be banned inside the US because the represent patent infringement.

    The US is going to start banning books

    I wonder how they're going to dispose of confiscated books, hmm? Perhaps burning them would be an efficient and effective way to destroy them.

    Yes, of course, the US must confiscate and burn all banned books! Because this is what capitalistic democracies do to protect their citizens.

    How many rights does a democracy have to curtail or eliminate before it ceases to be a democracy?

    Think I'm overreacting? Then think of all the rediculous things that software patents have allowed and then apply that to BOOKS.
  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CosmeticLobotamy ( 155360 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @01:08AM (#13947959)
    Action is needed to reverse this, but I doubt we'll see it while Bush is still in power.

    I'm not a Bush fan in the slightest, but I don't see it being the kind of thing a Democrat president would give a crap about, either. Whoever is president when some ridiculously hyped movie gets its opening delayed by litigation will be the president to fight it.
  • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @01:14AM (#13947982) Homepage Journal
    Maybe the MPAA and RIAA will have to put those lawers [sic] to a good use for once.

    Are you kidding? The MPAA will pee themselves with delight over this. They will support this wholeheartedly.


    The issue of, "Who owns the story," is a thorny one in Hollywood. Professional screenwriters -- many of whom, by the way, are unionized because the studios kept abusing them way back when -- often retain the copyrights to their stories. Among other things, copyright affords the author the right to enjoin performance of their story in most media (since those are derivative works). However, copyright's scope is limited. You only have a case against a studio if the copying was direct. If the studio's work was substantially similar, then you get to sit in court for years and argue exactly how similar it was, and whether the studio's work A) constitutes plagiarism, and B) whether the degree of plagiarism is sufficient to warrant punishment by the courts. See Buchwald vs. Paramount [] for an example of how messy this can get.

    Further, if a writer feels that s/he's being maltreated by the studios, s/he can vote with their feet and simply choose to work for someone else under different, hopefully better conditions. (In practice, this is more difficult than I'm making it sound.)

    However, if plotline elements can be patented, then there will be a mad rush by the studios to acquire as many patents as possible. Once done, screenwriters will no longer be able to ply their trade without being expressly licensed by the studio to do so. The balance of power will shift massively to the studios, who will wield absolute veto power over who may write screenplays, and under what circumstances. ("I want to retain rights to the story." "I'm sorry; we don't offer plot element licenses under those conditions.")

    This will also effectively kill those pesky independent screenwriters and film studios, since the large studios will simply refuse to license the plot elements. (The large studios won't have any difficulty; they'll merely cross-license with each other.) The studios could also, if they so wished, break the screenwriters' union overnight.

    And, of course, you'll hear a bunch of self-serving blathering about how film production is massively expensive, and successful film plots are already hard to come by, so successful plot elements should be afforded the maximum protection possible because, darn it, it was expensive to develop. This "reasoning" is, of course, complete bullshit, but it'll play well in the trade magazines and the halls of Congress.


  • Hey America (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @01:14AM (#13947987) Homepage Journal
    You're fucked!

    Seriously fucked

    What sickens me is your sickness is going to seep into Canada. I'll fight this one tooth and nail.

    Really, at the risk of being redundant you are deeply badly fucked.

  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 04, 2005 @01:32AM (#13948062)
    A democracy is three wolves and a lamb deciding on what's for dinner.

    The US was never meant to be a democracy; the fact that it has become one will be it's downfall.
  • Re:Palm Sunday. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @01:34AM (#13948070) Homepage
    Lots of people have done this type of analysis, and it is quite valuable. That doesn't mean that the subject matter is without merit, however. EVERY Simpsons episode has followed roughly the same structure for ten years, and it still captivates audiences. Ever notice that the first 5 minutes have nothing to do with the next 25? Yup, that's the one.

    Someone is going to mod me up for saying this, then mod me down for being obvious, but read The Hero with a Thousand Faces []. It goes into painstaking detail about the idealized hero story, and yet the structure fits tons of popular and historical media such as Terminator 2, Heart of Darkness, Cowboy Bebop, Tarzan, Blade, Odysseus, the new testament in the Bible, etc, etc.

    There are several other structures out there, and nearly infinite variants, but if you look at media with a critical eye you will find that all good films, books, shows, and games fall into set patterns of challenges, setbacks, losses, and eventual triumph (or not). If I may be so bold, most truly great pieces of media aren't made by artists, but by craftsmen. An artist explores their feelings as they create, producing something which is generally more intellectually engaging than emotionally so. A craftsman knows every tool of their trade, and hones their skills, tricks, and abilities towards controlling the viewer's reaction. Spielberg is a master craftsman. Vonnegut is a craftsman. Even in artistic pieces like Y Tu Mama Tambien, the craftsmanship is present and in the forefront.

    I say this because too many people try to create media from the heart, without realizing that you really need to engage your head thoroughly in order to focus on how to effect the heart of your audience. These people are master magicians: they conjure up images and emotions using smoke and mirrors. And like master magicians, they have to know the routines, and know how to work the routines so that they don't seem like routines. Part of the magic is taking something that was slaved over for years, with every detail hashed out and revised in painstaking detail, and making it look completley natural and unintended.

    But there is magic, there is structure. And if you want to become a magician, you need to give up the magic and learn how it is done.

  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:2, Insightful)

    by darkera ( 805654 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @01:55AM (#13948154)
    Burning a copy of Fahrenheit 451? Oh sweet irony.
  • by ScrappyLaptop ( 733753 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @01:57AM (#13948160)
    Hey, don't get me wrong; I too think that the system no longer serves it's original purpose. And, I like the idea of patent trusts; I like the idea of public trusts even more.

    However, what you are proposing is a direct attack on the operation and function of a government agency. In case you haven't noticed, "Peaceful protest" is no longer tolerated at a federal level. In fact, what you propose could be construed as terrorism (don't laugh, careers advance on this stuff), leading the USPTO to finally get put under the protective wing of the DHS.

    My original point was just that large corporations like IBM already do exactly what you are proposing, and in numbers that dwarf what you could organize. Problem is, it hasn't fixed a thing and instead has contributed to the lack of scrutiny given current applications. You see, not only would you have to own these thousands of minutea patents, but you will also need to fund the lawyers to protect them. The patent office is willing to grant a patent to just about anything; they figure any problems will get resolved in the courts. Of course, that solution works just fine if you own an army of attorneys or happen to be an army of attorneys...or a politician that once part of an army of attorneys or who is owned by an army of attorneys or a corporation that owns an army of attorneys...

  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Master of Transhuman ( 597628 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @02:02AM (#13948181) Homepage
    "The Chief Executive (as the patent office is Executive Branch) needs to seriously clean house."

    Before he gets to the Patent Office, he needs to deal with Karl...not to mention himself.
  • Land Grab (Score:3, Insightful)

    by headkase ( 533448 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @02:03AM (#13948182)
    The impression I've been building as I read each example of this kind of crap is that the US through organizations such as the WTO and internally with "IP" laws is trying to grab as big a piece of the pie as it can in the initial Information Age. Nobody knows what the future is going to be like in 20 years but it's a safe bet that if you weight the rules to favor your nation (which doesn't neccessarily mean individuals within it) so that you "own" everything then stategicaly you should be better off. If something like this idea isn't making it's way through the machinery of the US government then they must simply be incompetent or playing pork barrel games.
    You know, in China which tends towards the opposite of US IP laws, every motivated individual still has their stuff but as you work up into business organizations they simply have different rules that make things work their way. For example, music piracy is (more) rampant in China so instead of record labels sitting back and raking in the dough there are no record labels and artists are paid through corporate sponsorships - different systems that accomplish the same effect of getting a person their music.
  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 04, 2005 @02:04AM (#13948188)
    "The US was never meant to be a democracy; the fact that it has become one will be it's downfall."

    The US is a democracy? Misinformation like that has led to the decay of the rights of normal citizens. You mean well but your perceptions are way off because you hear the word democracy used incorrectly by the media and some politicians.

    The US is a Republic based on democratic principles. This wasn't so terrible after the revolutionary war or after conflicts against true evil, but people forget what values they fought to protect. In America today you are given a choice between two virtual dictators to choose between. You activities are even watched by the government.

    At best you could argue it is an indirect democracy. Any political scientist will tell you in a pure democracy "THE PEOPLE" vote on "issues" not "politicians" (that can do whatever the hell they want once elected).

    Americans need to remember why theY separated from GB way back when and the
    premise under which they founded the country. Pay special attention to clear statements---"all men are created equal". The constitution even begins with "We the people"-- not "We the elite". Democracy is not the problem--it is the solution to this recurring problem of power hungry individuals. No nation will be safe until this journey that began in 1776 and led to freedom for minorities, woman and even native Indians--- is finally completed in a true democracy.

    In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

    The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

    He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

    He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

    He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people
  • Re:Where am I... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thej1nx ( 763573 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @02:10AM (#13948218)
    I don't know why they want to spend billions going to Mars... this planet is bizzare enough.

    You are wondering why Scientist want to go to Mars ? Self Explanatory. They want to escape all this bizzareness :P

  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @02:26AM (#13948269) Homepage
    Maybe the USPTO is saying "Ooh, good idea!" because it is purposefully committing suicide?

    I mean, that's a weird idea, but it seems to me that they're basically forcing the government to deal with the problem. Surely any halfway intelligent person can see that this system just isn't working
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Friday November 04, 2005 @03:10AM (#13948390) Homepage Journal
    Now choose random book/movie/video game and try to assign them to one of these seven categories. I choose the episode Ariel from FireFly:

    The crew helps Simon infiltrate a ritzy planet's hospital for info on the experiments going on at River's school. But as he uncovers the cause of her psychosis, a betrayal by one of the Serenity members puts the Tam siblings back in the hands of the Alliance.

    Wow, what category does this fit into? Let's try all of them shall we?

    • ACHILLES. Simon thinks he's the smartest cookie in the cookie jar, so he plans a flawless crime where both he, his sister and the crew get everything they want, but he forgot his fatal flaw! He's too trusting and Jayne's betrayal leads his plan into jeopardy.
    • CINDERELLA. Simon's dream to go home with his sister comes true as he once more goes back to core planet and even gets the chance to practice medicine, saving a life and telling off an intern, even though it threatens the job and risks their capture.
    • CIRCE. Jayne goes along with the plan, even pretending that he's friends with Simon and River but it turns out he was betraying them!!
    • FAUST. Simon sinks further into the underworld of libertarian crime, but by the end of the tail he learns that criminals can rarely be trusted.
    • ORPHEUS. The most obvious, the crew decend into hell (a core planet) complete with Simon and River simulating their own deaths to do it. The minions of hell try to claw at them and keep them from escaping but, with the help of their friends, they make it out with a precious secret.
    • ROMEO and JULIET. Simon would do anything for his sister, including die for her.
    • TRISTAN and ISOLDE. Simon struggles to repair his sister's damaged brain, ignoring Kaylee's obvious affection for him.

    Yah. What have we learn about categories?
  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HanzoSpam ( 713251 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @03:16AM (#13948404)
    You think this is bad, just wait until someone patents "hero fights villian." That's pretty much on par with some of the things other kinds of pattents are issued for.

    Here we have a case of art anticipating life. []
  • Good news! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JamesTRexx ( 675890 ) <> on Friday November 04, 2005 @03:27AM (#13948427) Homepage Journal
    Hollywood will die slowly as a new Hollywood without patent restrictions will emerge in Europe or Asia.
    Maybe it'll be the end of the Oscars as a bonus.
  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GotenXiao ( 863190 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @03:44AM (#13948460)
    Going to START banning books? I take it you've not heard of the US' banned books list. []

    J.K Rowling, R.L Stein and Stephen King are some of the most challenged authors, according to the ALA's website. gedbanned/challengedbanned.htm []
  • Hey ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ggvaidya ( 747058 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @04:18AM (#13948530) Homepage Journal
    Could be worse [].
  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sydb ( 176695 ) <> on Friday November 04, 2005 @07:08AM (#13948905)
    You might be on to something there. It would not be the first time that people do exactly what they are told to do even though they know it's stupid in order to highlight that stupidity. Frequently, trying to explain to those in power that they are wielding their power wrongly just does not work; they need to see the consequences of their actions before they realise they have made a mistake.

    Very insightful.
  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 04, 2005 @07:59AM (#13948995)
    How many rights does a democracy have to curtail or eliminate before it ceases to be a democracy?

    Wait a second... Since when does democracy (or majority rule, or representative rule) imply individual rights?

    Democracy is simply the modern justification for power (the "right" to initiate force as a means to an end). Democracy does not, in any way, remove the element of power from government. 500 years ago, rulers justified themselves by claiming they were following god's orders. Today, rulers justify themselves by claiming they are following the majority's orders. Even when they are, does it really justify coercion? Don't be afraid to ask that question.

    Democracy is still government, and government is still founded on the principle of coercion. Democracy, monarchy, republic, tyranny... the core principle of any government is identical. Government is defined by its unique "right" to initiate force as a means to an end; anyone else who does so is a criminal. How they achieved that "right" is simply irrelevant to the definition of government.

    Democracy is not immune to oppression. It is still impossible to curtail power. If power could be contained, then it wouldn't be power, would it? How can the "right" to initiate force possibly be contained? Only by eliminating it -- and that is not going to happen any time soon.

    Personally, I say the type of government doesn't matter worth a damn; what matters is the level of respect a government has for individual freedom. If a society is more free living under the rule of a monarchy than the rule of a democracy, then I say the monarchy is more ethical and just, and you're damn right I'd rather live there.

  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @09:04AM (#13949168)
    Action is needed to reverse this, but I doubt we'll see it while Bush is still in power.

    While I think the notion of patented storylines is the height of nonsense (and hopefully, this applied-for patent will not actually come to pass), I don't think the current (or any) administration is what you should be bitching about. The Patent Office is a creature of the US Congress. Congress impacts its charter, and its funding. While the USPTO is an agency of the Department of Commerce (and thus, is always under the direction of a political appointee), the DoC still has to actually do what congress has said it has to do. Congress approves the DoC's spending and programs at a pretty granular level. Don't like all this crap? Talk to your congressional delegation about it. No president can dictate a change in IP law (thank goodness). Can you imagine if either Bush or Kerry (or Gore! yikes!) could hand down instructions on how to evaluate such things? No, it's something that needs to be handled more thoughtfully, and in a less politicized form - not by edict.
  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:4, Insightful)

    by techiemac ( 118313 ) <techiemac AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday November 04, 2005 @09:18AM (#13949228)
    There never was a prior art search.
    First of all lets clairify what a provisional patent is... It's not a patent and does not hold the same teeth as a patent does. Simply put, it gives you the right to put Patent Pending on some technology that you are developing. In addition, if you apply for a patent in a years time from time of the filing of the provisional patent, the effective date of the patent (assuming it's approved... not all patents are) is the date of provisional patent filing. Oh, the date of provisional patent filing is the date you drop it off at the post office and send it via registered mail.
    So, today you could write up a provisional patent document (not as formal as an actual patent application but it helps to keep it formal if you are going after the patent), enclose a check for $100.00 if you are an individual, send it via registered mail (not fedex, ups, but usps) and BAM, Patent Pending.
    It doesn't mean you are going to get the patent. It's meant for smaller inventors to potentially apply for patents and decide if they want to invest the $10,000 it typically takes to possibly get a patent. The gives you protection of prior art no matter what so some company can't patent the technology even if you decide not to pursue a patent (as the provisional patent application counts as prior art and assuming the technology is "new and novel"). If you do decide to pursue a patent the effective date of the patent is the date you sent it via registered mail.

    This "doofus" is part of the New Wave of Hip young legal eagles, trained in the modern intellectual property mindset, who are going to sweep away all your old outdated notions of "justice" and "fairness" and take the legal industry to new heights of glorious profit!

    So Preacheth The Church Of The New Global Economy! Hail Satan!!
  • Re:USPTO Broken (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <> on Friday November 04, 2005 @10:16AM (#13949538) Journal
    Must resist trolll... ARG can't resist trolll.... <small>Vote libertarian then</small>
  • by Eric Smalley ( 561923 ) <> on Friday November 04, 2005 @10:30AM (#13949633) Homepage
    Perhaps the Writers Guild of America could link its screenplay Registry [] to the Prior Art Database [] or feed directly to the USPTO. Screenwriters routinely submit their manuscripts. In fact, almost no studio, production company or agent will look at an unregistered script. As of about 10 years ago there were around 7,500 scripts registered each year. That should cover just about any conceivable reductionist plot line. Perhaps we can make it so that these people will have to essentially write the full works in order to establish novelty.
  • I ran a search for "storyline" and found the claim for "Process of relaying a story having a unique plot []."

    This guy seems serious. Now let's just hope the USPTO realizes the stupidity of allowing even an application for this sort of patent. Stories have been around since the beginnings of humanity. Patenting the ideas behind them would be like patenting speech itself.

    I still can't believe this. It's like something out of The Onion.

  • by __aayurq3262 ( 921830 ) on Friday November 04, 2005 @12:54PM (#13951020)
    The USPTO did not "issue" a storyline patent. They published a copy of the patent application filed by some idiot who wants a patent on a storyline. He gets no rights unless the PTO actually grants the patent. So far no one has ever been granted such a patent. You can file an application asking them to give you a patent on anything - it doesn't mean you're going to get it. Don't shoot the PTO until they actually grant this one. They are legally obligated to publish it - so that means nothing. The application was published, not "issued." There's also a lot of confusion here over the word "provisional" as used with patents. There is something called a "provisional patent application" and there is something called "provisional patent rights." They are totally different things and are unrelated. The "provisional patent application" is a way of starting the patent process. You get no rights with it unless you later file a patent and that patent is approved. Provisional patent applications are never examined and are never published. "Provisional rights" refers to rights you get after your non-provisional patent application is published. Patent applications used to be secret. When the decision was made to publish them, it seemed only fair that if somebody learned about the invention because of the publishing and began to copy the invention, the inventor should get a "reasonable royalty" for that copying. Provisional rights apply only if the patent is ultimately granted, and only if the infringer is actually notified of the provisional rights. The inventor only gets a "reasonable royalty."

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.