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What "Riverdale" Gets Wrong About Patent Law

The Netflix/CW television show, Riverdale, is based on the Archie comics and patents are a major plot line in Season 4. Just like Archie winning a fight with a bear, it's entertainingly inaccurate.

Warning: Spoilers Below for Season 4 of Riverdale

In Season 4, Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica are all high school seniors who are friends in the not-so-sleepy town of Riverdale where there are lots of murders and love-triangles.

Veronica Lodge "owns" the local burger-and-milkshake joint and runs a speakeasy in the basement. She's 18. Veronica's dad, Hiram Lodge, is the mayor of the town who just started a rum business, as getting out of prison made him realize he wants to fulfill his lifelong dream of selling rum. When Hiram possibly bribes Yale to accept Veronica and it's revealed Hermosa is Hiram's secret love child, Veronica gets angry and decides to get back at her father by opening a competitive rum business. Veronica brags about her plan to beat her father in the rum business, so Hiram revokes her liquor license (remember, he's also the mayor and the 18 year-old runs a speakeasy).


What's Wrong?- In New York, the liquor license system is administered by the state government, not the city. Also, you must be 21 or older to get a liquor license, even though someone under 21 could serve alcohol.

Level of Wrongness? In the show they say the Governor of New York is in the Lodges' pocket. Plus, the liquor license could be in Hiram's name and he could have just revoked it. The show goes back and forth on who actually owns the burger-and-milkshake joint.

This gets a pass for sloppy writing.


Hiram brags to Veronica that her rum will never be better than his, as he's using his mother's secret recipe that he's patented. Veronica goes to her grandmother and gets the recipe and makes a spiced version. Hiram then threatens Veronica with a lawsuit saying that the spiced version still violates his patent.


What's Wrong? Where do I even start? This is so wrong.

(1) Recipes generally aren't patentable. To be patentable, an invention must also be "novel" and "nonobvious" (see 35 U.S.C. 102 and 35 U.S.C. 103). I highly doubt that this rum recipe is so novel that it's never existed before, nor be an obvious improvement or alteration of a previously known rum recipe which someone with reasonable skill in rum making could have also made.

(2) Patents need to be new. You can't get a patent for an invention that's been around for awhile even if it is novel. Let's assume Hiram's Mom has been making this rum for decades to give out a family gatherings ... then it's not new, so you can't get a patent.

(3) The inventor of the patent is the owner and must sell the rights to someone. A company, like Lodge Industries, cannot be an "inventor." So if Hiram bought the patent from his mom, he should have had her sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Veronica knows that Hiram has the patent, so going to her grandmother to violate that non-disclosure agreement, Veronica has just proven her intent to infringe on Hiram's patent and this is not a good look to a jury. We see this often between inventor-manufacture-company, which is why having a strong enforcement plan is key to any intellectual property strategy.

Level of Wrongness? Let's say that Hiram's mom's rum really is that novel and she hasn't been selling it for more than a year. Also, Hiram purchased the patent from his mom. Then yes, Hiram could threaten Veronica with a lawsuit, as a spiced version is an obvious improvement. The question for the jury would be is the modification enough to avoid a patent infringement. Hiram could take Veronica to court over this, and because she clearly went behind Hiram's back after knowing about the patent to get the recipe, she's not going to look good in front of a jury.

If they had a line like "Mom just invented a new rum" or "when I was in prison I discovered a new way to make rum" then I could buy this plotline. But they really convey the rum as an "old family secret of rum" but old recipes that aren't novel cannot be patented.

This is plastic handle of rum level of bad. This is the worst part of the entire plotline.


After having a maple snow cone at the last high school football game of the season, Veronica teams up with the head cheerleader, Cheryl, who also owns the maple syrup business that dominates Riverdale. They decide to make maple syrup based rum. Their chemistry teacher reminds Cheryl and Veronica that he can't drink alcohol with them because they are only 18, but the teacher still completes an analysis of their new maple rum and declares the patent won't be an issue.


What's wrong? Besides two high schoolers running million dollar companies in a small-town? This is actually right. Every inventor should hire an expert to conduct a clearance search.

Level of Wrongness? Two-thumbs up for this scene, it's accurate.


Hiram, as mayor, orders a raid of the speakeasy and finds the new rum Cheryl and Veronica are selling and destroys the bottles. Hiram says "Ladies, I'm the grandmaster" and then a sheriff deputy hands him a sledgehammer to destroy the bottles.

Cheryl's mother used to own a brothel, The Maple Club, in the local Riverdale hotel, so they decide to relocate the maple rum selling business there. This scene of course involves the line "Let's tap those scumbags and start making some money" as they intend to first sell their rum to the former brothel regulars. Then, they employ Cheryl's mother to run the Maple Rum selling business, who was previously living in a bunker, trapped there by Cheryl.

The menu at The Maple Club features "Maple Rum Punch," "Maplejito," and "Red Raven Rum." The opening is a success, even with Cheryl's mother wearing a creepy mask.


What's wrong? A person under 21 could sell rum to be consumed off premises so it's legal for Veronica to sell her rum bottles. However, an 18 year-old can't get a permit to distill alcohol in the State of New York, so it's illegal for Veronica to make her own rum. See New York Law

Level of Wrongness? This is a fictional tv show, but they could simply have written in a line of Veronica having paid off the Governor or something. "It's not real" pass.


Turns out Hiram is dying from a degenerative disease. To inspire her father to fight the disease, Veronica continues amping up their rum competition. Hiram secures a distribution deal where he will be supplying the rum for a chain of casinos. To compete with this, Veronica decides to sell "Maple Claw" directed at college kids.

Red Raven's MAPLE CLAW is now competing with the Malloy's MAPLE MOONSHINE for the college crowd and the Irish gang try to rough-up The Maple Club. We get a scene after the Lodges are discussing gang violence over alcohol production that show cuts to Archie trying to write a love song. That's Riverdale!


What's wrong? MAPLE MOONSHINE is a descriptive brand name (moonshine made with maple, so it may actually be generic). The "claw" portion of MAPLE CLAW is dominant. Thus, these brand names are not likely to cause confusion as MAPLE MOONSHINE is such a weak marks and "maple" is diluted in the distilled spirits category.

Level of Wrongness? The Riverdale girls have every right to disagree with the Malloy's, as their brand names aren't going to cause confusion.

This is accurate, if very dramatic.


So while The Maple Club is the filming location of a tickle porn show down, Hiram Lodge and one of the Malloy's get in an alley fight and loses. In revenge, Hiram kills the Malloy patriarch.

Later, Cheryl utters the immortal words of "Some families have rum in their veins and other families have maple syrup. And some blood types simply aren't compatible." So ends the Blossom-Lodge maple-rum empire.

Veronica goes to her dad for a loan to buy Cheryl out, as she now believes he's a good person and been reformed by prison as she only knows of him losing in the alley fight, not the later murder. Veronica again can't cut her toxic family out of her life because she enjoys the money and drama too much.

After that we don't get a mention of the rum business until Season 5, Episode 5, where Hiram says he's sold the rum business to Veronica's step-sister to focus on being a real-estate mogul.


---- TLDR ----

I'm excited anytime mentions intellectual property law in movies or television, but when Hiram mentioned "patents" for the first time, I groaned. Riverdale is perpetuating bad information about intellectual property laws. Viewers take in this bad information and internalize it. The Illusory Truth Effect is real and so even if someone knows Riverdale isn't accurate (see bear fight), repeated lies result in people internalizing and believing the lies. As portrayed on the show, Hiram couldn't have gotten a patent on the rum recipe. Thus, Veronica's search for a new recipe is unnecessary. In addition, adding "maple syrup" to rum isn't novel enough to get a patent. That exists in the marketplace today.

The sad part is the Riverdale writers could have easily changed most of these inaccuracies with a few lines. Instead of an "old family recipe," have Hiram's mom invent a new way to distill rum while Hiram is in prison (or Hiram invents it while he's in prison). This solves the novelty, new, and non-obviousness requirements to get a patent.

It's really difficult to prove your recipe is completely novel as humans have been experimenting with food as long as we've been human. But, inventing a new method or manner to cook food is often patentable. It feels mean to criticize Riverdale for sloppy writing when COVID-19 affected these last two seasons, but come-on! Hire an intellectual property to do a once over and you can easily make your plot lines accurate.

Archie, if you need intellectual property advice - call me.

2 comentários

26 de dez. de 2021

Not to mention that maple sugar/syrup flavored rum just sounds nasty! Especially in a punch or mojito type beverage. I would be worried the taste would make me vomit.


17 de mai. de 2021

I love Riverdale! 😆

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