lips_with_smoke.jpgOrange County – What happens when a marketing department decides to try their hand at filing a patent application?  Harlequin Enterprises, better known for its woman’s fiction novels than its R&D department, has answered that question.  Recently, Harlequin filed a patent application for “The Essential Romantic Kiss.”  The application traces the history of the kiss to the Ancient Greeks, quotes from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and cites Wikipedia (to the horror of teachers and professors everywhere) to espouse the benefits of kissing.  Thankfully, Harlequin has promised that if the patent is registered the kiss will be available to everyone free of charge.  Attempting to capitalize on this application, Harlequin has created the website, allowing visitors to submit their own kiss diagrams and enter a contest while pictures of Harlequin book covers appear in the background.

The question that must be asked is whether filing such a patent is ethical.  Clearly, Harlequin’s patent application will have a difficult time satisfying the novelty and non-obviousness requirements of the U.S. Patent Act.  Patents are meant to be a vital tool to be used by private individuals and corporations alike to protect their ideas, not tools to be used to increase a company’s public exposure. 

As a government entity, the USPTO relies on tax payer dollars to operate and therefore tax payer dollars are being spent to support Harlequin’s marketing strategy.  Should a patent application whose goal is mere publicity and not the thoughtful protection of intellectual property result in a form of Rule 11 sanctions (monetary punishment for frivolous filings in civil litigations) against the applicant? 

Katherine Orr, VP of Public Relations for Harlequin, stated that the application is merely to “protect and preserve” the kiss.