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Michael Crichton – Freedom of Speech vs. Patented Speech

In a very unusual and interesting editorial in the NY Times, Michael Crichton reports that “This Essay Breaks the Law”:

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.

All this may sound absurd, but it is the heart of a case that will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. In 1986 researchers filed a patent application for a method of testing the levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, in the blood. They went one step further and asked for a patent on the basic biological relationship between homocysteine and vitamin deficiency. A patent was granted that covered both the test and the scientific fact. Eventually, a company called Metabolite took over the license for the patent.

…But what the Supreme Court will focus on is the nature of the claimed correlation. On the one hand, courts have repeatedly held that basic bodily processes and “products of nature” are not patentable. That’s why no one owns gravity, or the speed of light. But at the same time, courts have granted so-called correlation patents for many years. Powerful forces are arrayed on both sides of the issue.

In addition, there is the rather bizarre question of whether simply thinking about a patented fact infringes the patent. The idea smacks of thought control, to say nothing of unenforceability. It seems like something out of a novel by Philip K. Dick — or Kafka. But it highlights the uncomfortable truth that the Patent Office and the courts have in recent decades ruled themselves into a corner from which they must somehow extricate themselves.

Gets you thinking, doesn’t it?

If what you say or write can be patented, how does this impact the issues of freedom of speech? I really recommend all bloggers read this.

Examining the ludicrous nature of this, well-known author, Crichton, ends his essay with this:

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.

The Supreme Court should rule against Metabolite, and the Patent Office should begin to reverse its strategy of patenting strategies. Basic truths of nature can’t be owned.

Oh, and by the way: I own the patent for “essay or letter criticizing a previous publication.” So anyone who criticizes what I have said here had better pay a royalty first, or I’ll see you in court.

And I end this with the thought that me blockquoting him might also put me at risk. Yikes! Run for your lawyers!

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen


  1. Posted March 21, 2006 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    1986, hmm? Looks like Orwell was off just by a couple of years! We have given our government way too much power, thinking that it would protect our rights and give us safety, whether physical, mental or monetary. This just goes to prove that.

  2. Neeraj
    Posted March 22, 2006 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Who owns the patent for “Commenting on a Blog” ?? Then we all are in a Big Soup !!

  3. Posted March 23, 2006 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Nice catch Lorelle!
    Very good reading.
    If it’s not 1984 it looks like Catch 22 😉

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