Friday, September 18, 2009

IP in the movie "Duplicity"

The word "patent" is mentioned twice in the movie, and text from an issued patent appears at the end, signaling the final twist in the plot. The molecule was known! [Those into patents figure out the ending seconds before the rest of the audience.]

There's lots of stuff about industrial espionage, although this is about a trade secret which isn't really a secret. One wonders if this plotline comes from the real world. Would one CEO set up a trap for another CEO to steal "bad" information, knowing that the "thief CEO" would not know good information from bad? As to patents, there's an implicit acceptance of "first to file" (untold wealth to the company that lands the patent first, in a situation wherein the first filer would likely not be the first to invent). But 35 USC 102(g) does exist. And a story about "idea theft ' / patent litigation would be boring, unless it's "big guy" vs. "little guy" {Flash of Genius.]

In this story, there are two separate entities stealing the "secret." For the egotistical American CEO who steals, the theft is the thing, not the value. Once he's got the thing, the next step is to talk about the thing to the shareholders, without ever checking whether what's he's got is valuable. For the retired CIA/MI6 operatives who steal (and who are double-crossing the egotistical CEO), getting money for the thing is the top priority. Only the Europeans who would buy the stolen information from the operatives understand due diligence, prior art, and valuation. Of the last point, one recalls the real-world stories of 1-2-3 superconductors and buckyballs, wherein true discoveries had little or no value, and did not represent innovations, despite many popular press stories to the contrary, and one large US company buying up Chu's patent rights on 1-2-3 superconductors. [Nobody seems to hold the patent in a buckyball, and, at this point, no one cares.]

And, the movie has a great line about scientists who want to publish first in journals, given within the egotistical CEO's speech to shareholders. A humorous, heightened contrast between the business guy who knew nothing about the idea complaining about the technical guys who would study the idea too much. The shareholders come across as a flock of sheep bobbing their heads in approval, perhaps not much different from many venture capitalists looking at biofuels or stem cells from the outside.

And, there is an inclusion about academic plagiarism. The funny thing is that this inclusion only works in the plot if the corporate CEO believes that academic plagiarism is a likely thing for an academic "star" to do. And the CEO believes that it is. But then, the CEO himself is trying to steal, and to take credit for, the work of another. As an article in the Harvard Business Review has, in fact, said: Plagiarize with Pride. CEOs stealing from others is quite credible, as is academics stealing from others. The background presumptions of the movie work for the audience: businessmen and academics steal.

[If, for sake of argument, the egotistical CEO had questioned the plausibility of an academic all-star plagiarizing, he might have wised up to the scheme of the other CEO, and would not have been duped. As a related point, the whole scheme of the other CEO was based on manufactured evidence, made available on the internet (and elsewhere), which the minions of the egotistical CEO fell for, hook line and sinker. Something to look forward to in a world where a patent attorney would suggest to you, if it isn't on the internet, it doesn't exist. Maybe paper documents still have some value.]

***Separately, of plagiarism by (law) professors at Harvard, see

Harvard Clown School?


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