Monday, July 18, 2011

Making Movies Out of Books: Lessons for Technology Litigation

This weekend, I watched the final movie in the Harry Potter franchise, and what a treat that was! The movie buff in me was thoroughly satisfied because the movie was a fitting finale to a decade-long glorious cinematic saga. 

One of my take-aways from the last 4 movies under the stewardship of David Yates is that he has largely managed to satisfy the monumental expectations of ardent, and at times, fanatical lovers of the Harry Potter books. 

No wonder Deathly Hallows 2 has already raked in USD 168.6 million over the weekend trumping the weekend earnings of the Dark Knight.

This, for me, is a major achievement because it involves making a clear screenplay out of the book, which captures on screen almost every identifiable aspect of the characters, and the chain of events set out in each instalment of the novel. 

All this needs to be done within a span of 150-160 minutes at best. Making a 2-hour movie out of an eight-hundred page “page turner” is no mean task because this means every page has something important and relevant.

The thought that crossed my mind as I watched the movie was “how different is the business of making a movie out of a voluminous book from technology litigation, specifically patent litigation?”

In patent litigation too, litigators are typically faced with the unenviable task of explaining the novelty and non-obviousness of an invention to a largely technologically-untrained audience in a limited time. Glossing over the nuances of the invention would mean opening oneself to obviousness challenges in the Courtroom, and delving deep into the invention, if at all you have the time, means lulling the audience into a deep slumber! A textbook Catch 22 situation I say!

But then, nothing is impossible and there is a job that needs to be done. So how does one draw lessons from David Yates’ commendable handling of the last four movies? I think the first and foremost thing that Yates must have done is spend several hours trying to understand the characters and their arcs as the story moves from one book to another. In patent litigation, I think this translates to thoroughly understanding the prior art, and the evolution of the technology.

Yates must have spent considerable time talking to Rowling. This means the patent litigator too must spend a lot of time with the inventor.

The next thing that Yates must have done is to identify the most important and integral aspects of each book- basically editing the book to make a legible coherent screenplay out of it. For the patent litigator, this means identifying the inventive step of the invention and culling out those portions of the specification which add meaning to the inventive step as claimed in the claims.

Then Yates must have mulled over presenting the characters and portraying the events in a manner which the audience can relate to in some way or the other. For the patent litigator, this means thinking of simpler examples and illustrations which aid him as he explains the invention to the Court without flooding the arguments with a lot of technical jargon.

Despite the increasing dose of darkness in the books, Yates peppers the screenplay with enough humour to break the tension as the movie moves on the screen. The litigator too must use polite humour, if necessary self-deprecatory humour, wherever possible to avoid giving the impression that he understands the technology much better than anyone in the Courtroom. Self-effacing humour is always seen as a sign of humility (at least outward humility...).

Once the invention has been explained, the antagonist in the story, namely, the defendant, must be introduced. It is important to explain the defendant’s position and motives before establishing infringement because, for the audience to understand the seriousness of the antagonist’s calculated assault, it needs to know the reasons for and benefits from the assault.

Also, if there is a history of treading on people’s rights, that needs to be brought to the Court’s attention. Never under estimate the power of prejudice because we all know how well it works to the detriment of right owners frequently...

Once the antagonist/defendant’s motives have been explained and the stage is set for the deed, the doing of the deed must be explained in vivid detail. This is not for titillation, but to give the audience a peek into the antagonist’s warped thought process and his inner workings. The clearer the explanation of the deed and its motivations, the better is the chance of securing a higher damages figure (of course, this applies only to those jurisdictions where there is a damages culture; India isn’t one of them today).

The climax is what lingers in the audience’s mind once it leaves the hall; the climax is what the audience mulls and sleeps over. The climax is the cinematic “last word” (the “last laugh” of course is the judgment). And in litigation terms, it translates to the rebuttal to the defendant’s counter arguments. The rebuttals must be crisper and pithier than the original submissions, and for this the original submissions themselves must have laid a good foundation to build on.

Basically, the patent litigator must think of himself as someone who is making a movie out of a voluminous book where every page has its relevance. He must know every page of the book like the back of his hand, and must also know the pulse of his audience.

If he is fortunate enough to get a patient hearing from his audience, that’s half the battle won. But in the event the audience isn’t a willing one, he will need all his story-telling skills by his side to engage the audience’s attention throughout the movie. This calls for extensive preparation, and absolute anathema for an invincibility complex.

Anyways, I’ll zip it here because one of the cardinal rules of story-telling is to know when the audience is losing interest.

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