An annoying habit that my Mum likes to complain about, is my tendency to over-analyse and find fault in things – especially in TV shows and movies; a recent example being the new Wonka movie. 

I saw Wonka at the end of last year with my Mum and when it was over, she asked me whether I enjoyed it. After a brief ‘yes’… I proceeded to discuss all the problems and plot-holes around Wonka being a prequel. I pointed out in turn the inconsistences between this latest film and the earlier Gene Wilder film. I further then pointed out the inconsistencies with the Tim Burton version. After rambling on for a good ten minutes, my mum asked whether I would ever be able to just sit and watch something and not overthink it.  

The answer is no. My habit to analyse content merely created to entertain is both a gift and a curse.  It is also rather useless.  

However, this has given me the inspiration for a new (and very sporadically published) written series of my own.  After starting a career in the world of patents and Intellectual Property law, my analysis of (fictional) TV shows and movies has extended to re-watching parts of a TV show or movie that mention anything related to IP and figuring it out whether they got it right or not. This is now something I have decided to share with all of you. 

Before being moved in 1875, Edgar Allan Poe was buried in the back of Westminster Hall in Baltimore, MD. This stone marks the site of the original grave where the author was buried in 1849. Above the stone a black rose to honor the author.

To kick off the series we will start with a (fairly) recent Netflix show called ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’. This limited series ran for 8 episodes on Netflix, it was created by Mike Flanagan as an adaptation of a number of stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe. There were two key things that occurred in the show and I had to rewatch it a number of times to clarify that I did hear what I just heard – both concerned aspects of IP law!  

I will try to avoid spoilers for those of you who have not watched the show and wish to see it. The TV series follows two timelines centred around a twin brother and sister – Roderick and Madeline Usher – who are in charge of a US pharmaceutical company (Fortunato) which are famed for selling a drug called Ligodone. In the show, a lot of parallels are drawn between this drug and the very real opioid epidemic in the USA that was a result of the over-prescribed drug Oxycontin™.  

The first timeline is mainly set in 1979, when a young Roderick and Madeline are trying to rise to power in a firm called Fortunato. During this timeline, there is a significant plot point which concerns Ligodone, but also IP laws!

In 1979, Roderick and Madeline do not have any power at Fortunato. In a very early episode in the series, Roderick tries to pitch a new drug (Ligodone) to the CEO of Fortunato, a character called Griswold. Roderick suggests that Fortunato should hire the chemist (the inventor) who created Ligodone (or even better buy out the company that the chemist works for – Landor Pharma). However, Griswold turns down Roderick’s business pitch telling him the idea is bad. Time moves on and in a later episode we find out that Fortunato has actually bought Landor Pharma and will sell Ligodone! Roderick is furious that his business idea was used without him getting any of the credit. When Roderick confronts Griswold, Roderick says that he had made a deal with the chemist (inventor) who created the drug and therefore he – Roderick – is only allowed to rightfully sell Ligodone.  

Now this is where the IP part comes in. Griswold hits back as he points out that the chemist developed the drug Ligodone whilst he was employed by and working at Landor Pharma, hence it is Landor who actually own any IP rights concerning the drug. Therefore, by buying out Landor it means that Fortunato now own the rights in Ligodone.   

This is all perfectly true. In the UK, the laws surrounding intellectual property dictate that the owner of any IP is the creator of said IP unless the creator of the IP was an employee of a company, and that the creation of the IP was a reasonable result of their duties to the company. In which case the employer is the owner. In the US, this also applies although there must be careful stipulation in the employment contract that the employee does in fact assign their ownership rights over to their employer. 

It is also important to note that when you are purchasing another company or incorporating a company as a subsidiary, you should make sure that any contract or agreement stipulates the transfer of all IP rights and ownership – whether these be granted patents, pending patents, trademarks or any other form of IP – over to you. Also make sure you register such transfers at the appropriate IP offices!  

The second timeline is set in the ‘present day’. Roderick, Madeline, and Roderick’s six kids are under persecution from the Assistant US Attorney (Auguste Dupin) for their lies surrounding Ligodone. In the show Roderick monologues to Dupin. It is very dramatic, and it is all about… lemons. This is where another IP mention crops up – a slightly less accurate one.  

The monologue is a riff of the old adage “when life gives you lemons…”. However, rather than making lemonade, Roderick Usher tells you how to ‘truly’ exploit a lemon, in true business mogul fashion. Near the end of the monologue Roderick says:  

You write a line of genetic code that makes the lemons look just a little more like t*ts… and you get a gene patent for the t*t-lemon DNA sequence, you cross-pollinate… you get those seeds circulating in the wild, and then you sue the farmer for copyright infringement when that genetic code shows up on their land.” 

Here is where the IP mistake lies. You would not sue for copyright infringement if a third party was infringing on your patent rights. It is particularly odd in this monologue, as a new lemon species and its lemon seeds would not be afforded copyright protection (unfortunately, the lemon is not a work of dramatic, literary or musical creation). Correct statements that Roderick could have made:  

You sue the farmer for infringement”  

You sue the farmer for infringement of your patent rights”  

However, it must be stated that in real life it is always advisable to attempt to reach a diplomatic solution in a first instance – for a good example of this see this article from last year concerning ice cream, Percy Pigs and Marks & Spencer’s.  

If you have any TV shows or movies where you believe they have incorrectly mentioned or discussed IP then please reach out and we may cover it in the next blog post of this series!

 

 

At Scintilla, we help innovative companies get a grip on their intellectual property. Our unique commercial approach combines registration of patents and trade marks with strategic input so that IP can be a springboard for business growth. If you would like to discuss your IP needs, do contact us or book a free initial consultation!