Law Review: Jurassic Park: An IMAX 3D Experience
Since its inception, this column has endeavored to provide thoughtful analysis of legal issues in works of popular culture while candidly evaluating the artistic merits of each work. Sadly, no journalism is completely free of bias, and this column is no different. Your humble correspondent must confess that one word in the English language causes him to lose any semblance of scholarly objectivity: tyrannosaurus.
The tyrannosaurus rex is, without question, the awesomest thing in the history of the universe. Nothing else comes remotely close. The makers of Axe Body Spray would have you believe that “nothing beats an astronaut.” Really? Ask an astronaut about that when his Extravehicular Mobility Unit is disintegrating under the 12,800 pounds of pressure between the jaws of a hungry T. rex. A tyrannosaurus beats an astronaut every day of the week, and the only thing that beats a tyrannosaurus is another, larger tyrannosaurus.
This brings us to “Jurassic Park.”* Steven Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece returned to theaters this weekend for an IMAX 3D release. The film, which generated the highest worldwide box office gross in history in its debut, is about a weekend trip to a theme park filled with dinosaurs. Spoiler alert: the trip goes less well than planned.
Summarizing “Jurassic Park” seems unnecessary and absurd, but there appear to be several people in the United States, possibly a dozen, who have never seen the film. Suffice it to say there is an all-star cast, a triumphant John Williams score, computer-generated imagery that still looks surprisingly real, and, most importantly, a tyrannosaurus rex who stomps, chomps, and roars her way across miles of tropical island paradise. She is, by far, the greatest villain in the history of cinema. When she finally enters the film on a dark and stormy night, the audience in the IMAX 3D theater can almost feel her bellowing in their faces.
“Jurassic Park” raises a lot of questions for lawyers. Is it reasonably foreseeable that previously extinct animals would break free of formidable modern cages and eat their human keepers? Would the Costa Rican government allow you to breed thirty-foot carnivores on its territory? And why does everyone cheer when the lawyer gets eaten? (Answer: any lawyer should feel honored that such a magnificent creature as a tyrannosaurus would choose to share a dining experience with him.)
Watching the movie again, some viewers may notice that the story of “Jurassic Park” begins with a lawsuit. Richard Attenborough’s park developer character invites scientists to evaluate his nature preserve because of a $20 million lawsuit brought on behalf of an employee who learns a hard lesson about workplace safety in the opening scene. The scientists’ weekend on the island turns sour when a greedy programmer played by Wayne Knight attempts to steal Jurassic Park’s patented dinosaur embryos in an appallingly reckless security breach.
If Wayne Knight’s character had succeeded in delivering Jurassic Park’s technology to rival company BioSyn and BioSyn had developed dinosaurs of its own, it would present a question of first impression before the courts. Is a cloned dinosaur intellectual property? InGen, the fictional company behind Jurassic Park in the books and films, might argue that its dinosaur embryos are patented. BioSyn might counter that courts have consistently struck down patents over “products of nature.” Dinosaurs, being nature’s most epic products, might be exempt from patentability.
However, the Supreme Court has acknowledged in cases such as American Fruit Growers v. Brogdex that natural organisms may be patented if their producers transform them into a new and different article with a distinct name, character, or use. The creatures in Jurassic Park were engineered from a combination of dinosaur DNA and frog DNA. They are, to some extent, a new species that is extremely similar to dinosaurs. This might render them patentable. Even if a court found that Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs were not significantly distinct from naturally occurring species, it might still uphold their patents. As attorney Ryan Hagglund pointed out in the George Mason Law Review, a company that successfully cloned dinosaurs would provide the public with knowledge about and use of animals that the public could not have previously enjoyed, and it would do so through an inventive act. This might satisfy the “novel” requirement for patentability.
These are important issues. It is unacceptable that it has been twenty years since “Jurassic Park” thrilled moviegoers around the world, and we still do not have triceratops-lassoing rodeos in this country. This column strives to avoid political advocacy, but the situation is desperate. If scientists have any doubt as to whether dinosaur clones are patentable, that doubt will discourage them from investing the time and resources necessary to clone a dinosaur. Clearly, Congress must pass a twenty-eighth amendment to the United States Constitution that explicitly provides for the patentability of dinosaur clones.
“Jurassic Park: An IMAX 3D Experience” also stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and Samuel L. Jackson. It is rated “PG-13″ and it is two hours and seven minutes long. It will probably appeal to almost everyone. It will probably not appeal to cynical, joyless, and awful human beings.
–Austin Murnane, Entertainment Columnist
*Just writing those words makes this columnist wince from the sad realization that we have not actually arrived at a live dinosaur preserve.