Sunday, July 20, 2008

Patents and Literary Criticism

I've been reading a slew of books on biblical criticism, literary analysis of the bible, poetics and narrative, etc... and I'm struck by how similar the construction of literary criticism is to a patent submission.

A patent looks like:

"Our process / method is in the field of X. Previous inventions in the field of X include: A, but A isn't good enough for such and such; B, which is good for this, but not for that; and C, which goes further, but fails to do so and so. Our process / method solves all of these problems by doing blah blah."

Literary criticism looks exactly the same, except that after describing blah blah, the rest of the book actually uses the process to accomplish what it sets out to do (to greater or lesser success). A patent merely describes what the patent submitters intend to do.

Literary criticism might involve taking an old methodology and applying it to a new body of text, or an altogether new methodology. Patents try to make their claims about methodology as broad as possible so that if anyone does anything remotely similar in some other field, they can sue for the credit. Literary critics imply similarly, although they only want a citation.

Imagine if methods of literary criticism were subject to patents. Wouldn't that be a great way to destroy yet another field of human progress?
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