The following guest post comes from Rebecca Cusey, a second year law student at George Mason University School of Law and a movie critic at The Federalist.
By Rebecca Cusey
There are two patents in the movie “Joy”: the one the titular character failed to get and the one for which she is willing to fight tooth and nail.
The first, for an idea she had in high school to improve dog collars, fills her with regret as she sees a similar product successfully sold in shops. As a single mother working to care for not only her children, but her extended family, Joy instinctively knows that owning that idea and marketing the product would have put her life on a different track.
When she has an idea to vastly improve the household mop, she sets out to found a new business empire on ownership of her idea. Joy has a million ideas and the passion to see them through. What she does not have is experience with patents. Her main investor, who happens to also be her father’s girlfriend, gets some bad advice from a lawyer with no patent expertise. His cursory patent search turns up an owner of a similar idea in Hong Kong and his legal advice is to pay advance royalties to this owner.
The owner’s United States representative is only too happy to take her money and, furthermore, he has connections with a factory that can make the parts for her product. A match made in heaven!
However, Joy increasingly loses confidence in the manufacturer. When she flies out to investigate, she discovers the representative is taking steps to fully patent her idea himself and freeze her out. She learns that paying him royalties may have weakened her legal claim to the patent.
That’s when Jennifer Lawrence goes all black leather and aviator sunglasses. She becomes a bad-to-the-bone (but still legal) heroine, an infringer avenger, and a crusader for intellectual property rights. Joy is going to fight to own her idea for a better mop.
The movie does an excellent job of showing why it matters. The mop is more than a mop. It is literally the roof over her kids’ heads. She has taken financial risks, put all her assets into her invention. That alone is enough, but there is more to it than that. Her lifelong dream has been to invent ways to make the world better. An innovator is who she is, down in her core. If some fly-by-night outfit can just take her idea, they take something from her that is the essence of who she is.
Sadly, perhaps, for patent lawyers, and probably only for patent lawyers, the final battle of the film does not happen in a courtroom. Joy finds, shall we say, alternate means of protecting her property. The point stands, however, in a surprisingly ringing endorsement of intellectual property rights. The idea for the mop belongs to Joy and no one has the right to take it from her.
In fact, the movie notes that, in the years after winning her first battle, Joy Mangano secured over a hundred patents. One became the highest selling product ever on the Home Shopping Network. Not bad for a girl who started with just with an idea and a dream.
Written and directed by David Russell and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert Di Nero, Joy is currently playing in theaters.