Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Perception - IP Is Hot But Incorrect

Last night, following the untimely death of Willie Ray, Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson's mother on The Closer, TNT's Perception took its turn at presenting a crime drama with an intellectual property twist.

In a nutshell an evil but brilliant terrorist-killer-farmer robbed of his family farm by an evil agribusiness was killing a group of executives and their associates with saran gas sent to them in the mail. (According to the plot line, easy to do with chemicals commonly found on a farm - perhaps TNT can post the formula on line on their fan pages.)  The main character in the show, Dr. Daniel Pierce, an eccentric professor of neuroscience struggling with schizophrenia, is exchanging messages with the terrorist-killer-farmer which leads him on the trail to the killer and the truth about the patent-copyright-IP conspiracy.

The twist had to do with a university professor, a colleague of Dr. Pierce, helping the evil agribusiness create a new strain of genetically modified corn with unintended consequences.  The corn's seed flies through the air to neighboring farms and "replaces" the  corn on the unsuspecting farmer's farms growing without the farmer's knowledge.  Then the evil agribusiness sues the unsuspecting farmer for - ready for this - copyright infringement on their patents for the altered genes and using their seed. (Sound familiar?)

It was particularly poignant that this show was aired on a day of news reports on the internet and on the old school HD cable channels on the Apple/Samsung patent case with lots of newly minted IP pundits sharing their wisdom on the patent system and how this all should work.  The pundits  appeared to have as much understanding of the patent system as the sleuths on Perception.  The commentary featured the standard fare of hackneyed pontificating:  The patent system is broken.  Consumers should decide which features are important and everyone should be able to use the patents of the things consumers like.  Can't we just share?  Patents stifle innovation.  Blah, blah, blah.

On Perception Dr. Pierce rants about evil corporations and their patents (or copyrighted patents or some other nonsense.)  The bad guys talk about how the evil agribusiness knew the seeds were on the move and were waiting to swoop in an rob the unsuspecting farmers of their farms by suing them for copyrighted patent infringement. (I kid you not.)  No doubt someone on the production staff read an article about Monsanto and decided it was a good plot line for a crime procedural on genetically modified seed.  Clearly they didn't understand how inventions, patents, copyrights or trade secrets work, but who expects script writers to worry about the facts.

The content of Perception is as dubious as TNT's presentation of the impact of schizophrenia  In Dr. Pierce's world, schizophrenics have helpful live in aids to help them through the day, have high paying careers as tenured college professors, are visited by helpful hallucinations that help them solve crimes.  An idealized and oversimplified vision of mental illness and how it impacts people's lives.

The IP-copyright-patent on the farm presentation of the way intellectual property works is just as dubious and just as uninformed.  Idealized and oversimplified with "fix the patent system" as the mantra as the heros fade into the sunset.

In short - neither TNT's presentation of the issues surrounding schizophrenia nor those about patents (which quite frankly IP is not nearly as important as the compelling issues surrounding needing better treatments for mental illness) are uninformed and not helpful.  But, then, it's just a TV show.