Page:The Green Bag (1889–1914), Volume 25.pdf/88

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{{rh|Needed Joke Legislation 1813 must certainly look seedy, in this not inelegant sense, if held up beside one of 1913 for comparison. We would therefore limit the period of refrigera tion, and require every joker to label his wares with the date when they left the mill. But in the absence of legis lation our advice to our higher minded humorous contemporaries is, "Date your jokes, if it is your desire that the mirth of your readers be flavored with the zest of a love of history." Great harm has undoubtedly arisen from the mistake committed by the American people in treating jokes as a form of literary property rather than as a mechanical invention. The only pro fession which is accused of sacrificing the plain literal sense of words to an inordinate passion for technicality has put a strained interpretation upon the phrase of the federal statute which describes as patentable "any new and useful art, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof." By these words Congress intended to create a classification of productions of higher rank than ordinary intellectual pro ductions, for they must possess novelty, usefulness and originality. All these qualities may be lacking in a literary production, yet it may be copyrighted, and the copyright law does not presume to say whether a production is valuable or worthless. But to be patentable an article must have positive worth, and must contain some element not found in a pre-existent article. If the patent law were construed in this intelligent spirit, it would offer the same protection to artistic production which the copy right law does to inartistic production. The artistic future of the American people is inseparably bound up with the patent law. Let all lovers of progress work unceasingly for a wiser adminis tration of that law!

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Our copyright system illustrates the common triumph of matter over mind, for an author copyrights not his ideas, but the form in which they are expressed. An inventor, on the contrary, patents the contrivance embodied in his inven tion, the principle underlying it, rather than the materials of which it is con structed. He is an idealist. If the more materialistic author were com pelled to patent his ideas, he would find himself forced to become a creator, rather than an imitator, and he would have either to become an artist or to cease to be an artisan. Compel the humorist, likewise, to patent the sub stance rather than the form of his inven tion, or else go out of business, and you will make him not an author, but an artist. Before us lies a comparatively modern version of the venerable jackass, "one at a time if you please" story, the risi bility of which is excited by ridicule expressed in an abrupt simile turning on an animal emblem of folly. If the original invention could have been filed in the archives of the patent office, ticketed "Division Ridicule, Alcove Ani mal Simile, Shelf Jackass," the patentee would have been protected by the prompt discovery of this subsequent infringement. That the patentee would not have means or inclination to sue is not to be • assumed, for powerful cor porations would be formed to deal in the trade thus protected by the patent laws. Consequently, no magazine con tributor would dare to dress up this ancient pleasantry in new garb and offer it to an editor. Thus the editor would be able to protect his readers, to protect the public, and to protect civilization itself. For the test, alike for the race and for the individual, is to be able to grow wittier with advancing years with out growing more foolish. A. W. S.