Monday, March 20, 2006

Patenting ideas

Michael Crichton in today's NY Times (he doesn't just write loose-ended books!):
• The Earth revolves around the Sun.

• The speed of light is a constant.

• Apples fall to earth because of gravity.


• Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.
This case reminds me of the cease-and-desist letter the band "The Planets" received from lawyers demanding that they stop selling their album because of a 60-second track that supposedly copied another artist's music in full.

The unbelievable thing was that the 60 seconds in question was completely silent, and the angry lawyers were representing the estate of John Cage, composer of the silent piece 4'33".

Mike Batt of The Planets responded by demanding that the lawyers specify which 60 seconds of their client's composition had been lifted (!). The case was settled out of court for a six-figure sum.

Batt said "Mine is a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds."

Time to join the Electronic Frontier Foundation.