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Can a science-fiction movie infringe a tech patent?

212.x600.film.knowing.rev Imagine if NASA sued Stanley Kubrick for "2001: A Space Odyssey" claiming dominion over space travel. Or, better yet, fancy the patent-holding inventor of virtual environments going to court to claim James Cameron's "Avatar" is a rip-off. Sound far-fetched?

Consider "Knowing," a sci-fi thriller released earlier this year starring Nicolas Cage that the Boston Globe reviewed this way: "Starts off mildly ridiculous, ascends to the full-blown ludicrous, and finally sails boldly off the edge of the absolutely preposterous."

Not so fast. The film may include more truth than the critic realizes.

Last week, Washington-based Global Findabiliity filed suit against distributor Summit Entertainment, identifying something embodied in "Knowing" that infringed its real-life patent on geocoding technology. The company's patent (7,107,286) is typical tech mumbo-jumbo, but roughly describes a process of using encoded audio-visual information to map improved geographical coordinates.

Sound familiar? In the movie, Cage's character is a professor who, according to a synopsis, "makes the startling discovery that (an) encoded message predicts with pinpoint accuracy the dates, death tolls and coordinates of every major disaster of the past 50 years."

Global Findability is now suing for patent infringement, saying in this highly entertaining complaint that the film "embodies the invention claimed in the '286 patent...by actively inducing or contributing to infringement of said patent by others."

We're familiar with patent troll lawsuits. We're also aware that Hollywood is prone to allegations of idea theft. But what we seem to have here is a strange new genre-bending legal claim where one can infringe technology in fiction similar to the way one can defame a person in fiction. And before we totally dismiss the claim as legal sci-fi, we have to note that Global Findability's board includes tech heavyweights like Peter Morville and the company is being represented in court by a lawyer, Frederick Samuels, who used to work for the US Patent & Trademark Office.