Thursday, April 7, 2011

How Much Do You Know About Intellectual Property? More than the People Behind this TV Show?

I’m a night person. Late night. I’m at my best after 11:00 p.m. That’s when I do my best thinking, or puttering. Catch up on the news, do laundry, try a crossword puzzle, read a contract. And while I’m doing these things, I like to have background noise. Usually an old movie, but lately I’ve picked up on some of the cable series that are replayed a zillion times at all hours. Perfect for me.

A couple of weeks ago, the noise was provided by an episode of Leverage, a TNT original series about a team of con artists who use their skills to right societal wrongs. Modern-day Robin Hoods. In this episode, the team poses as entertainment—magicians—for a “state of the company” meeting, in order to obtain proof that a certain executive (I think the CFO) is knowingly allowing the company to distribute tainted food, and hiding that information from the company’s CEO. A frightened employee has informed the team that this officer decided it was cheaper to compensate for deaths than do a product recall.

As the team plans its con, Nathan Ford, the leader of the team (and disgruntled former insurance investigator), shares his knowledge about the heightened security measures employed by food companies to protect their “food patents,” the highly valuable intellectual property of any successful food enterprise. I pick up on those words—food patents—and immediately think about the Coca-Cola recipe or the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices. (Remember that I was only half-listening). But those valuable pieces of information are maintained as trade secrets, not patented. Patents are published. So why would a company have heightened security to protect information that is publicly available? I smile knowingly as I catch this glitch—like a misplaced prop or inconsistent dialogue (the trip to Cleveland inexplicably becomes a trip to Cincinnati). This is only background conversation to show Ford’s industry experience and set the mood for the complicated plan they will have to devise to get around the company’s sophisticated security measures. The point of the story is tainted food. Greed and corruption to be stopped. Human suffering to be alleviated.

But while I dismiss this rather unfortunate dialogue error, I admit that I was now paying more attention to the program. What other mistakes might I catch? Of course, I also wondered how long it would be before one of my entrepreneurial clients or an employee at one of my food industry clients calls to talk to me about pursuing “food patent” protection for their intellectual property.

As the story unfolds there is physical action and technological tension. Complications abound, and ultimately the team is thwarted in its attempt to secretly download the damaging information about the company’s distribution of bad food products that would expose the evil executive. But, of course, the team must be successful, so in a clever plot twist, it turns out that the computer geek of the team managed to download the company’s food patents on the bad guy’s phone (or maybe it was a Blackberry). He is then caught leaving the building with the company’s valuable intellectual property and fired on the spot!

Seriously? Here was a major plot point that is just wrong. The actors were grinning and high-fiving over their achievements in exposing the bad guy, albeit for a different reason than originally intended. The concept is okay, but he was caught doing what? Stealing public information. Something anyone could obtain online at no charge. How could so many people (just think about the number of people involved in these productions) have missed this simple and easily verifiable fact? The initial reference to the protection of food patents as the basis for a high level of security was disturbing, but forgivable. A slight error in terminology is not fatal so long as the point is made that this is going to be a particularly difficult job. Right? But this wasn’t a mere glitch. The term “food patents” was used multiple times, and the theft of “food patents” was the ultimate undoing of the unscrupulous corporate executive. This was no little mistake. It ruined the story. But it also has piqued my interest to see if other episodes are equally flawed. Stay tuned.

No comments :

Post a Comment