It was a good year to be a corporate lawyer. I was working for Post-Human International, the leading producer of cybernetic devices and mind/machine interfaces. Their flagship product was the Post Human Virus™.
I was an IP lawyer for them, and had to research until I had a good grasp on the technology involved in the Virus. Cybernetic body modification (offered by PHI as Post-Human Enhancement™) had reached a plateau a few years earlier. In layman's terms, which is all I can really speak on, the problem was getting digital interfaces to interact with the frighteningly complex analog interface that was the human nervous system. It didn't matter how good a processor you had, or what material you conducted signals through. It seemed a fairly insurmountable problem. As a result, the only implants that sold were either dumb interfaces- passive devices like RFID implants, or Meatplants- devices that interfaced with one of the high level "five senses". Intraocular displays and the like.
Biological rejection rates were still fairly high however, and a spate of rabid religious fundamentalism decried the defilement of "Our Bodies, God's temple", so sales were low. Prices were high. For some time, it looked like cybernetic enhancement would remain a plot-device for science fiction stories.
Enter the Post-Human Virus™. In it's active form, the Post-Human Virus™ was a DNA nano-machine: self replicating, self adapting, and capable of causing limited structural changes to the human body. In essense, it added a digital-interface-layer to the patient's neurons. Each neuron was turned into a digital nanocomputer, capable of working as a neuron, and processing digital signals. The virus also dealt with rejection problems by tweaking the immune system.
It was still a self-replicating virus, and my employer took great measures to ensure that it could be controlled, and that their intellectual property would be protected. When the virus replicated, it actually created an inert copy of itself, folded up and locked- and a specific enzyme had to be present to unlock it. When someone paid for the post-human virus, they were given an injection of a specific set of protien markers that would keep the enzyme in the blood stream.
The first case I tried that year was PHI vs. Trey Dougal. As I write this, I see a pair of sparrows arguing over the layout of their nest. The male apparently wants to roof it, but the female seems concerned that the supports will cut off their view. I should have realized that PHI was fighting a losing battle. At the time though, I was young and making a name for myself. Each court victory was a final victory, each one another precedent making our technology harder to steal.
The case against Dougal strated fairly cut-and-dried. Dougal had isolated the protien marker that enabled the virus, and had been synthesizing it in enough quantity that unliscensed individuals could "catch" the enhancement from other individuals. He had posted his methods to a major biochem mailing list. The infringement was clear.
The defence attorney surprised me however, and had obviously gotten some better research assitants than I had. Apparently, the very same protien marker occured naturally in a variety of insect. "Futhermore," he said, "In 1998, this protien was isolated and synthesized by Chemomed, Inc. as a potential treatment for muscular dystrophy. The patent on its creation owned by PHI is invalidated by prior art."
Lettman, the defense attorney shot me a gloating look as he sat back down. I was surprised, and requested a recess to do my own review of his findings. Unfortunately, my research confirmed everything he said. The wording of PHI's patent discussed the chemical's synthesis. There was another patent on chemical locking mechanisms, but he Dougal obviously had not violated that one- he was picking the lock, not making his own.
When we returned to session, I posed my counter-argument. "The prosecution is prepared to concede that the patent is invalid, but is prepared to show that the defendant is still in violation of our intelectual property." The courtroom was obviously surprised, and Lettman shot me a mistrusting look. The judge called us both to the bench. "Are you sure you're ready to concede this point?" he asked.
"Absolutely your honor. I could make a big show of defending my client's patent, but it would waste all of our time- it's obviously invalid, and I'm surprised it was passed anyway."
Lettman shook his head. "This case was about patent violation. If there's no patent, there's noting to infringe."
"The charges brought were specifically IP violations under federal law H4352.6," I countered, "allowing all IP related cases to be brought under the same charges, specifically for this purpose."
The judge nodded. "Continue gentlemen."
That day, I called Lisa Breyes, an independant researcher that was part of the firm that had evaluated the chemical locking mechanism for several industry trials. I confirmed that she was neither an employee nor under any influence by PHI, and verified her impartiality. Once that line of questioning was dealt with, I moved on to the meat.
"Now, why is this protien marker/enzyme system used?" I asked.
"It's a security matter. There's been an interest in custom, self-reproducing bioagents for some time, but it's not marketable unless there can be some security. It essentially copy-protects the nanomachines, and keeps them from entering the environment."
I "hmmmed" dramatically. The look on Lettman's face showed that he knew where I was going with this line of questioning. Breyes was a good witness, she answered without hesitation and without any obfuscation or jargon.
"Miss Breyes, the virus isn't active until it meets the protien?"
"That's right. There is a chemical reaction that needs to take place for it to become active."
"If one didn't know the protien marker, could one figure out the unfolded form of the virus?"
"Not at all. The protien acts as a cryptographic key."
"The virus is encoded? Which means the useful data, the structure of the nano-machine, is protected cryptographically?"
There were more questions, and more cross examinations, counter witnesses, and all of the legal rigamorale, but in the end, Trey Dougal was convicted under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act- which made it a crime to circumvent copy protection procedures. It took some doing to convince the court that the enzyme encoding was copy-protection, and that the virus was digital media, but it wasn't difficult. In the end, I proved my legal virtuosity, and for blurring the line between what is "software" or not, I ended up getting labelled "The Cyberpunk IP Lawyer" by the press.