Dear Doc:
I know that self-isolating and social distancing has changed what each of us does every day. What has the Doc been up to, and what’s new in intellectual property?
Concerned Reader

Dear CR:

Don’t worry too much about the Doc. He’s been keeping busy in some interesting ways lately…

First, a client of LW&H has invented what may be a treatment for the severe symptoms of Covid-19. The Doc has been working to draft and file patent applications on that treatment, and even discovered an improvement himself.

Next, the Doc has been working with a team at a Philadelphia-area medical facility to engineer a device that safely allows three patients to share one ventilator, as a way to ease shortages of these critically important life saving devices. The device uses a tiny computer called a “Raspberry Pi” to control a set of valves, very much like the intake of a car engine, so that each patient gets filtered air at the correct pressure. The design is being tested right now using a set of artificial rubber lungs. If all goes well, the design will be production-engineered and manufactured quite soon.

Like everyone else, the Doc has also been spending lots of time on Zoom with clients, colleagues, and family. He has been learning about the roles of proper lighting and good microphones in improving the quality of these interactions, and has even started giving some formal lectures from his home office. Last week, the Doc spoke about “The Death of Privacy” in a session sponsored by the Chester County Library Foundation. This week, he is speaking about the history of innovation on a webcast sponsored by Profs & Pints, a new organization that, before the pandemic, held lectures in local bars at happy hour. (Now, they’re online and you have to bring your own drinks and snacks.)

Finally, the Doc is spending a lot of time cooking, which he says is just “organic chemistry with delicious results.” Someday soon, you may see a “Cooking with Dr. Copyright” cookbook. In it, he will certainly discuss why, even though you may register a copyright on your cookbook, you can’t use that to prevent someone else from cooking your dish, and why you can’t patent your recipes, but you can patent an industrial process for making the same food!

As for some tasty intellectual property stories… the United States Patent Office decided that artificial intelligences can’t be inventors, even if they satisfy every legal requirement. Why? Because in Sec. 101 of the Patent Act, Congress used the word “whoever”, and that, says the PTO, means a natural person. Never mind that Congress also used “whoever” in Sec. 271, and we routinely bring lawsuits against corporations (which, the last time the Doc looked, were not in any way “natural persons”). Consistency, it seems, is only the province of artificial intelligences, and not of the natural persons who work in the Commissioner’s Office at the PTO.

Finally, in these days of social distancing, teachers have been worrying about whether they infringe copyright when they read aloud to their students over Zoom, YouTube and other video conferencing systems. Some authors and publishers (like J.K. Rowling and Madonna) have granted blanket licenses to teachers. It is, however, likely that reading to students over the Internet will be considered “fair use” under 17 U.S.C. § 110(1). That section says that it is not infringement to perform a work, “in the course of the face-to-face teaching activities of a non-profit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction.” A virtual classroom, while not a “place”, is most likely covered by this language (unless, remarks the Doc with just a bit of snark, you are the Commissioner of Patents and you find that a place has to have desks and chairs, or some such malarkey, as a certain former VP is fond of saying.)

Have lots of free time on your hands (but not much else, because you compulsively wash them while singing “Happy Birthday”, which, thankfully, is no longer under copyright, and is free of all royalties?) Use that time to invent, create and protect your intellectual property. Give the attorneys at LW&H a call (or a Zoom). They’d love to help.

Until next month…stay isolated. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

The “Doc”

— Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.