Monday, January 17, 2011

Harry's Law Could've Used A Little Research in Patent Law

Awhile back I blogged about Harry's Law, the new show by David E. Kelley, which premiered tonight.  The show is about a patent attorney played by Kathy Bates who after being "one of the best patent lawyers in the country" for 32 years gets fired and opens up her own law firm, where she begins practicing criminal law.

I won't rehash my prior post, but my primary concern going in was that she was going to shift seamlessly from patent law to criminal law, even though these areas of law couldn't be more different.  The show wasn't completely clear what type of patent attorney she was -- patent prosecution or litigation -- but it appeared to be litigation, since she seemed to have some courtroom experience.  The "patent attorney" angle seemed to be nothing more than an effort to label patent law "dull" and move on to other things.  I say that because of the total and utter lack of any type of research about what a patent litigator does.

For example, in the opening scene, we are presented with Kathy Bates in her office, which is littered with papers and law books.  What was missing from the desk were patents.  Walk into any patent litigators office, and I guarantee you will find at least one, if not many more than one, patents on their desk.  There are patents from whatever lawsuits they are working on, as well as patents that have been asserted to show that the patent in suit is invalid.  Would it have been so hard to put one patent on her desk?  Sometimes the little details can add to the credibility of a show.

Kathy Bates then declares patent law "boring as a big bowl of steaming dogshit," which forces her to "lead a dull life with dull partners" and claims that she would rather "look into a mirror and watch her teeth rot than do one more case involving patent law."  Of course, she gets fired (and still I wonder how she wasn't a partner in the firm after 32 years of practice).  Then a young man named Malcolm falls on her as he is attempting suicide by jumping off a building.  After she gets out of the hospital, she gets hit by a car.  The driver of that car, whose name I didn't catch, was an attorney who was an "associate against her on a big patent case" where he argued the class consolidation motion.  A class consolidation motion in patent law?  Really?  How would that even work?  In patent law, you have a patent owner and an infringer.  I can't even imagine how the infringers could be a class, because that makes no sense.  I mean, seriously.  All they had to have him say was "I argued the claim construction motion" or "I argued the summary judgment motion."  Why have the dialogue be nothing that has anything to do with patent law, when it is supposedly a patent case?  So lazy on the part of the writers. 

Fast forward and of course Malcolm comes to her newly established law/shoe store, and she agrees to represent him on drug charges.  While she tells him that she is a patent attorney, not a criminal attorney, this doesn't stop her from agreeing.  Oh, and the associate who hit her with the car took a leave of absence from his biglaw job and went to work for her so he could "pick her brain."  So, apparently we have two patent attorneys now working in criminal law.  Great.  Then it was time for another amazing gaffe.  The local thug, Damian, stops by to force her to pay him for protection of her store, and she says she's "a lawyer who is used to working with PIs, DAs, and police."  Really?  In patent law?  Because you will never work with a DA or the police in patent law unless an ex-client goes crazy, and even working with a PI will be few and far between unless you are trying to hunt down a witness.  Patent law is civil law, which generally don't involve the DA or the police.  You can tell David E. Kelley is used to criminal law cases.  She then -- even after five seconds earlier she acknowledged that she was not a criminal lawyer -- told Damian that she would represent him for free when he got arrested.  Good luck, buddy.   

Within days she is trying Malcolm's case in criminal court.  I'm willing to suspend some disbelief on the timing, since that is what legal television dramas do, but it seemed utterly absurd.  In the courtroom, she appeared to be unfamiliar with the both the Rules of Evidence and speaking in a courtroom at trial, which she should have some familiarity with if she was a patent litigator for 32 years.  Her cross examination was out of line, and the show treated it as such, but it seemed so dumb in the context of her experience.  (Although she claimed she was still familiarizing herself with the Criminal Rules of Evidence, things like what's admissible don't vary considerably.)  The courtroom scenes are typical David E. Kelley speeches and improper arguments, and I'm not going to go into the details.  Somewhat surprisingly, she lost the case, but the Judge only gave Malcolm probation rather than jail time, in large part due to her inadmissible speeches in the courtroom.

At the end of the episode, Damian's friends come in and tell her they've invented something, and they want a patent.  So, I guess we'll see how that goes going forward.  I don't have much hope given the lack of attention to detail on such basic stuff in patent law. 

All in all, and even aside from the sloppy patent law issues, I wasn't very impressed with the show.  I like Kathy Bates and will probably give it another chance, but it is abundantly evident that David E. Kelley hasn't practiced law in a very long time.      

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