Trenton Morton is a registered patent attorney who previously worked in patent litigation and patent counseling for an international law firm. He also previously served as Corporate Counsel for a Midwest-based transmission manufacturer. Please connect with him on LinkedIn or email him at [email protected].
I want to salute the patents that, every so often, reference science fiction. Please stop reading if you’re looking for deep, doctrinal substance. Stick around, however, if you have a few minutes to loosen up. These enhancements make patents more fun. Not so long ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan drew headlines in Vanity Fair and People by weaving Spider-Man references into her opinion in Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment. Surely, we’re not more uptight than the Supreme Court, right? Beyond lightheartedness though, these enhancements might make patents more meaningful. Camilla Hrdy and Daniel Brean recently commented in the Michigan Technology Law Review that “many inventions that were originally introduced in science fiction also end up in the patent record.” Although some of their commentary might overlap with my point here, I want to instead focus on science fiction as a fun and useful tool.
Legal writing has long attracted criticism. In Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift complained of lawyers’ “peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand.” (p. 317.) More recently, Loyola Law School professor Robert Benson lamented how “[l]egalese is characterized by passive verbs, impersonality, nominalizations, long sentences, idea-stuffed sentences, difficult words, double negatives, illogical order, poor headings, and poor typeface and graphic layout.” Robert W. Benson, “The End of Legalese: The Game is Over,” 13 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 519, 531 (1984). Ouch. Patent disclosures often reveal the same warts. But if “[t]he purpose of the written description requirement is to assure that the public receives sufficient knowledge,” Zoltek Corp. v. United States, 815 F.3d 1302, 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2016), why must we suffer such side effects? Drafters guilty of these crimes must’ve forgotten the public’s right to “receive meaningful disclosure in exchange for being excluded from practicing the invention.” Enzo Biochem, Inc. v. Gen-Probe Inc., 323 F.3d 956, 970 (Fed. Cir. 2002).