Must read hilarity from novelist-turned-policy-wonk Michael Crichton on our increasingly absurd patent laws. Highlighting an upcoming Supreme Court case which questions a company’s ability to patent a basic scientific fact — in this case, that “[e]levated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency” — Crichton launches a broadside against the increasing patentability of universal facts of nature, entirely obvious techniques or concepts, and abstract “strategies” used throughout the business world.

“Companies have patented their method of hiring, and real estate agents have patented the way they sell houses. Lawyers now advise athletes to patent their sports moves, and screenwriters to patent their movie plots. (My screenplay for “Jurassic Park” was cited as a good candidate.)”

Real software and high-technology innovators and innovations are increasingly savaged by companies whose only function is to dream up and file patents, to stop others from actually doing useful things, and to collect rents. These companies are filled mostly with lawyers, not engineers, scientists, and business managers. The strategy entirely ignores the crucial process of designing, manufacturing, and selling actual products in the field, which is where most real innovation occurs.
Intellectual property is extremely important, but it must be reinforced by real innovation and real products conceived and consummated by real innovators and real companies. When we arrive at a place where everything is considered intellectual property, then of course nothing is real property, and we enter a litigious, anti-innovation free-for-all. Crichton concludes:

“I wanted to end this essay by telling a story about how current rulings hurt us, but the patent for “ending an essay with an anecdote” is owned. So I thought to end with a quotation from a famous person, but that strategy is patented, too. I then decided to end abruptly, but “abrupt ending for dramatic effect” is also patented. Finally, I decided to pay the “end with summary” patent fee, since it was the least expensive.”

-Bret Swanson