As an academic law librarian, I practice terrible professional-personal separation by also collecting fiction in which legal concepts are important components of the story. I have a very small collection thus far because I’ve focused on books involving intellectual property law. If I branch out into legal thrillers involving criminal law, then I’m sure there will be many more options, though not every crime thriller in which the protagonist is a lawyer will have legal concepts that are important to the story.
One may understandably question whether copyright or patents can ever be interesting enough to propel a story, but I’ve found several books that I enjoyed reading that discussed a fair amount of intellectual property. Here are a few in case you want to step away from casebooks or nutshells, but still feel vaguely connected to the law. I’ll try to avoid spoilers.
Paul Goldstein is a law professor at Stanford. After writing a number of books on intellectual property for academic and lay audiences, he has written a set of legal thriller novels involving Michael Seeley, a hard-nosed litigator with a soft spot for artists, underdogs, and gin.
Errors and Omissions introducing Seeley as an alcoholic about to lose his position at his firm. He is given a last chance to help clear copyright ownership in a commercially successful movie script for a major studio. In his investigation he encounters subterfuge, intimidation, and murder. Who would have thought copyright transfers and the work-for-hire doctrine could cause so much trouble?
In A Patent Lie, Seeley has hung out his own shingle and is hired by his brother to help defend a patent for an AIDS vaccine against a major pharmaceutical company. This novel delves into Seeley’s dysfunctional family and portrays a civil trial over the patent. I was impressed that Goldstein was able to make the trial scenes interesting while avoiding any major inaccuracies. In addition to discussing patent law, this novel also discusses civil procedure in a federal trial court.
The latest novel, Havana Requiem, finds Seeley helping some Cuban musicians terminate copyright transfer and thus reclaim their now-popular music. In addition to dealing with suspicious clients, Seeley is also harried by Cuban security and goons hired by the secretive owners of the lucrative copyrights. Havana Requiem won the 2013 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction (John Grisham has won the other two years the prize has been awarded).
Each novel is pretty self-contained, so if you only like patents, you can read A Patent Lie without trouble. While there are three novels, they don’t read like a trilogy, so perhaps Goldstein will turn out more Michael Seeley adventures in intellectual property law.