A Patent Application as Performance Art?

[tweetmeme source=”Intellogist” only_single=false] According to the the USPTO, the purpose of the US patent system is to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing for limited times to inventors the exclusive right to their respective discoveries” (from Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution).  Yes, we may occasionally find humorous patents that have the secondary effect of entertaining us, but even the most bizarre patent application is usually submitted in order to protect the inventors’ or applicants’ rights to a perceived discovery.  But once in a blue moon, you come across a patent application that must have been filed for another reason: it can only be a joke.  Or a brilliant piece of performance art.

The Anticipate This!™ Patent and Trademark Law Blog recently posted about “U.S. Pat. Appl. Pub. No. 20060259306:  Business method protecting jokes.”  The Blogging Biodiversity blog concluded that this ridiculous patent application (which also has equivalent patent applications in the UK and Australia, as well as a PCT application) must be a joke:

The whole thing is obviously a joke itself, intended to point out some of the absurdities of the patent system. For those with any background in patent law, reading the stiff language of patent applications applied to such a silly subject is additionally amusing.

I’m going to take this a step further: I believe that this patent application is an incredibly innovative piece of performance art.  After the jump, I’ll take a look at some file history documents for this patent application in PAIR and PATENTSCOPE, and I’ll explain why this application truly is a work of art.

To prove that this patent application is performance art, first I need to define “performance art”:

Definition of PERFORMANCE ART (via the Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

A nontraditional art form often with political or topical themes that typically features a live presentation to an audience or onlookers (as on a street) and draws on such arts as acting, poetry, music, dance, or painting


So what criteria does this definition give for performance art?
  • Nontraditional art form
  • political or topical themes
  • A  live presentation to an audience
  • Draws on such arts as acting, poetry, music, dance, or painting
Now let’s take a look at the patent application and it’s file history documents in PAIR and PATENTSCOPE.  In US Public PAIR, the user needs to enter the ReCAPTCHA code and then search for patent application number 10569506.  The file history information is viewable under the “Image File Wrapper” tab:

Image file wrapper in Public PAIR.

In PATENTSCOPE, the user can search under the “ID/Number” tab of the simple search form for WO/2005/022287 (with the PCT checkbox selected).  The patent file history documents are located under the “Documents” tab:

Documents related to the PCT application in PATENTSCOPE.

Right off the bat, this document meets one of the “Performance Art” criteria: A  live presentation to an audience. US patent examiner Jacob Coppola was the live audience member for the US version of this patent performance.  The inventor Timothy Wace Roberts had Mr. Coppola participate in this interactive performance by conducting a prior art search and writing a non-final rejection for the patent application.

The USPTO search history - an interactive performance?

 The documentation available through PAIR may be seen as recorded evidence of Mr. Roberts’ live show for the USPTO.  Additional shows were also performed internationally for WIPO, the UK IPO, and the Australian Patent Office, as demonstrated by the documents in PATENTSCOPE.

Now let’s quickly look at how the rest of the “performance art” criteria is met by “Business method protecting jokes”:

  • Nontraditional art form – I think we can all agree that patent-application-as-art is pretty nontraditional.
  • Political or topical themes – I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Roberts may not be the biggest fan of business method patents (or the patent system in general).  Of course, while most ordinary individuals would write an editorial about the issue, it takes an extraordinary individual to create an interactive performance piece to get his point across.
  • Draws on such arts as acting, poetry, music, dance, or paintingPatentese  is considered by many to be a unique and beautiful form of poetry.
So, in my opinion,  Timothy Wace Roberts hasn’t only filed a patent application, he’s created an innovative piece of performance art that crosses the boundary between legal document and art form.

Do you think “Business method protecting jokes” is a piece of performance art?  Are there any other patent applications that could qualify as performance art?  Let us know in the comments!

Patent Information from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Joelle Mornini. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company Landon IP, a major provider of patent searches, trademark searches, technical translations, and information retrieval services.


3 Responses

  1. It’s definitely a piece of work. If it was meant to be performance art, it came with a pretty hefty price tag to perform. I’m almost disappointed the Examiner didn’t make a restriction requirement, I feel like we’d have gotten even more entertainment.

  2. The poor examiner was probably just relieved that the inventor never responded to the non-final rejection!

  3. It’s clearly a (rather good) joke. Is the applicant, Tim Roberts, the same Tim Roberts who was President of the Chartered Insitute of Patent Attorneys? I suspect so!

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