Book Review: Markman at the Beach

Review by Professor Shubha Ghosh

A Patent Lie
A Novel by Paul Goldstein

For those who are planning a summer trip, especially those IP-geeks who cannot completely get away from work, make sure to pack a copy of Paul Goldstein’s latest A Patent Lie. Like his first novel, Errors and Omissions, published two years ago, this new legal thriller transforms intellectual property practice into a tale of murder and conspiracy.

I had heard a rumor that Goldstein’s second novel would be about a Markman hearing. Fortunately, the proceeding plays only a small part in the story which involves Buffalo attorney Michael Seeley (referred to as Seeley throughout the book) being called to the Bay Area by his brother to represent a South San Francisco start-up in a patent infringement suit against a Swiss pharmaceutical company. All of this is a routine matter except that previous counsel met an early demise (called a suicide) under a commuter train. Patent litigation often is not a matter of life or death, but adding to the tension is the patent at issue in the case, which covers a treatment for AIDS. But unlike the global corporate conspiracy at the heart of another recent novel dealing with pharmaceuticals, The Constant Gardener, at stake in A Patent Lie are the details of litigation, which rise above the mundane with the personal, political, and professional relationships that Goldstein depicts compellingly.

At one point in the novel, a character notes that "not only are cases mostly about facts, but no facts are more important than the personalities of the participants." And it is the personalities that drive the story here. Michael Seeley, Goldstein’s protagonist who appeared in the first novel, is the world weary East Coaster, retreating to his home town of Buffalo, New York, to deal with professional and personal crises. The West Coast offers temptations represented here by Seeley’s brother whose involvement in the start-up and the law suit becomes more diabolical by degrees. Temptations also beckon in the character of Lily Warren, a brilliant research scientist who may or may not have been the first to invent the invention in dispute. I doubt that priority disputes have ever taken such inscrutable, or romantic, turns. The law suit takes several twists with an important reversal of interests occurring at the end. Finally, the pushes and pulls on Michael Seeley force him to confront many tensions: his rivalry with his brother, the ethical conundrums of suing a competitor, and the role of a patent lawyer within the patent system.

The book is a real treat for those who like intellectual property (despite the anti-patent message of the book) and may offer something for the generalist reader who likes to get lost in a legal thriller while basking in the summer sun. After reading Goldstein’s latest, try his first book, which manages to make copyright clearance somewhat riveting. Let me also recommend Killer Smile‘>Lisa Scottoline’s Killer Smile, another legal thriller involving patent law.

So what will Goldstein’s next thriller be about? Antidilution? Misappropriation? Exhaustion? The Unpredictability of Fair Use? Whatever the topic, I am sure it will add color to the black letter of intellectual property law.

18 thoughts on “Book Review: Markman at the Beach

  1. One of the best novels involving IP issues, albeit copyright, is A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis.

  2. “these examiners could also have a thing for gladiators, which would make the book even more interesting”

    Somebody got “mugged” :)

  3. “Somebody” writes: “maybe his next book will be about the ultra-exciting lives of 20-something post adolescent examiners who play video games and use baby talk. the potential source material is enormous.”

    these examiners could also have a thing for gladiators, which would make the book even more interesting

  4. Someone should check the ceiling tiles in e6Ks office, I hear he may have some files stashed away up there…

  5. Don’t read that junk, I’m writing a book called “The PTO STIC Murders.” It chronicles the seedy life of an old primary examiner who fronts a fake persona as the unofficial historian of the patent office. Unknown to his colleagues was an uncontrollable fetish for an old “historical PTO wooden bench.”

    He uses the bench to hypnotize newly minted academy students. Things quickly get out of hand and he ends up placing examiner remains in boxes, which are delivered through interoffice mail to his friend working in the PTO cafeteria.

    It will be fascinating reading!

  6. “I mean really get into the character’s shoes and feel like you’re right there in the action.”

    F’ing hilarious, ive been waiting for some chatter on this post.

  7. Douglas Coupland would surely be the man for the job of writing a novel about life in the USPTO. E6 is classic material for him.

  8. maybe his next book will be about the ultra-exciting lives of 20-something post adolescent examiners who play video games and use baby talk. the potential source material is enormous.

  9. Hopefully it’s about patent attorney/inventors who routinely flaunt their ability to not abide by 112, and ignore in full section 103 at time of filing. That’s what I thought “A Patent Lie” was going to be about when I read the title.

    You guys will be able to relate to the protagonist. I mean really get into the character’s shoes and feel like you’re right there in the action.

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