Inconsequential Property

Jane had a business event down south in January, and for a while I was thinking of catching a train down to meet up with her and see some friends. We decided against it (having been travelling so much recently), but unexpectedly I ended up down in London for a day after all.

A few weeks back I’d heard, thanks to a continuing fascination, about a limerick competition run by a weblog about intellectual property law. First prize: free registration at a conference on intellectual property law. The challenge: to write limericks on intellectual property law. Winners to be judged by intellectual property lawyers and published in said weblog on intellectual property law.

Fortunately, years of drawing cartoons to order on dry legal subjects had honed my abilities in this respect [Blood v. Stone, 1996], so I was up for the challenge.

There were three possible subjects. First was “the battle between the US and Czech breweries for control of the BUDWEISER mark”. I’m sure you’ve all been avidly following the story: Czech beer good, American beer rich. I thought about it a while and came up with this:

What would wise old King Solomon do
When deciding on names for each brew?
Say, “You Czechs, it is clear,
Have a Budweiser beer;
And Americans: so, Bud, do you.”

Next was “the role of WIPO”, the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Five lines on an international bureaucracy devoted to copyright, patents and trademarks? Piece of Sara Lee® brand cake.

What the world needs today, heaven knows,
Is an organization that grows
Ever larger and stronger
And broader the longer
Intellectual property goes.

Finally: “the granting of patents for business methods”, as opposed to actual physical inventions that nobody’s ever thought of before. A tricky one, that.

The businessman’s son wasn’t dense,
So he hammered a sign to the fence
(Having seen from his dad
All the patents he had):
“For sale: how to sell things, 10 pence.”

A week later, I learned that the last one won the competition. Woo! Go me.

Okay, it may not sound like much. But the registration fee for this one-day conference—these being intellectual property lawyers, remember—was five hundred pounds. That’s enough for a long weekend for two on the Continent. It’s more than the UK and EU student fee for the semester-long course I’m teaching this year (plug, plug).

Virge, the one who tipped me off to the competition, asked if that was the most I’d ever been paid per word for my writing. Depending whether I count it across all three entries or just the one that won, the answer is Yes, and Most Definitely. Fifty quid alone for writing “the” three times.

So I could hardly not go, especially as the subject is actually relevant to my day job, and will be part of my course. There was some travel money available through work, so I booked a couple of last-minute EasyJet fares. The following week I was up at 4 a.m. to catch a red-eye to Gatwick. Never been through that airport before; hadn’t been missing much.

I’d never been to London on business before, either, only on pleasure. It was a freezing morning, one of the coldest in January, but a clear day when I emerged at Piccadilly Circus. I had to fight the urge to head off to Foyles or the National Gallery, or to see my mates.

The conference was at some place called the Café Royal, which sounded a bit low-rent for intellectual property lawyers. There’s a Café Class in Tollcross with black tiles on the outside that sells chip suppers. But being in Regent Street and therefore Historic, it is in fact a big classy hotel, chip suppers not included.

The conference was the annual gathering of London’s IP lawyers, all updating each other on IP issues and generally networking. It had some good topics and speakers, an excellent lunch, and a thick book of proceedings. The discussion of online IP wasn’t that much different from a relevant MetaFilter thread, but hearing about the UK situation was useful. Not an event I would have gone to if I hadn’t won the spot, but hey.

Some of them sniffed out the cuckoo in their midst. At lunch, one delegate was wondering why on earth my university decided to send me down for it (i.e., how on earth it could afford to send me), so I had to reveal my slightly amusing reason for being there. “Oh!” she said. “You wrote the limericks.”

I know, they’re inconsequential things. But just think: it took about twenty minutes to write them, so for those twenty minutes I was earning fifteen hundred pounds an hour.

That’s almost as much as an intellectual property lawyer.

6 February 2006 · Journal

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