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“The ideas gained by men before they are 25 are practically the only ideas they shall have in their lives.” William James said that, in what was obviously one of his crankier moments. (Whenever I comment about life after 50, my colleague Justice David Sills reminds me to “Wait ’til you hit 60!” This is not helping to make me less cranky.) My bet would be that he was at least twice 25 when he said it. The simple fact is there are a whole helluva lot more cranky moments after 50 than before. My own crankiness can be predicted with lunar accuracy. Once a month for the past 20 years, I’ve faced a deadline for a column. And, having already stockpiled “practically the only ideas” I shall have in my life before I started writing this drivel, I’m starting to run low and am often hard-pressed to fill this space — wastefully or otherwise. The problem is compounded by the fact I am a born procrastinator. I live by the adage, “Never put off until tomorrow what — with a little effort — you can delay until a week from Tuesday.” So the impending deadline doesn’t really show up on my radar until it’s too close for missiles or anti-aircraft, and I end up throwing rocks at it — often as it recedes from view. (More than once an editor has called to ask whether I’ve decided this month to forgo the column entirely and just phone the readers personally.) But almost invariably, often when I’m about to throw in the towel and tell the editor I can’t write the column this month because I died, my fellow man (I choose this term purposefully: Women produce distressingly little grist for my mill. I think they just aren’t trying.) provides me with something so surpassingly stupid that it makes me wonder if maybe God should have rethought the whole “I can do this in seven days” thing. Like maybe an extra afternoon working on the humans might have been well-advised. Thoughts like that just have to be exorcised, and I’m grateful to The Recorder for allowing me to get them out of my system rather than in a courtroom or an opinion. Today’s exorcism has to do with interstate commerce, patent law, unfair competition and peanut butter sandwiches — a conglomeration of ideas rarely juxtaposed as closely or as improbably as they are in this case. All you need to know to realize just how wrong the theory of human evolution is, comes from one sentence in the Los Angeles Daily Journal. It says that a company in Orrville, Ohio, “contends it holds the patent for crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and it intends to maintain exclusive rights to the lunchtime staple.” Yep. Patented. Peanut butter and jelly. You got a license? If not, you better get your kids ready for the idea that Mom and Dad are gonna be doing a stretch at Leavenworth, because Menusaver Inc. is not an outfit to be trifled with. Just ask Albie’s Restaurant. Albie’s runs a couple of restaurants in Michigan, and was doubtless more than a little nonplussed to receive a cease-and-desist notice from Menusaver which informed them that Menusaver holds the patent on crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and would haul Albie’s into court to protect that patent. Think about that: A corporation in another state sends you a letter saying it has come to their attention that you’re selling crustless PBJs and if you don’t cut it out (or, in this case, stop cutting it off), they’re gonna sue your butt. I’ll betcha the first thing the owner of Albie’s did was look around the restaurant and try to identify the spy. Who ratted on him? Who told Menusaver he was serving crustless PBJs? The second thing had to be this incredible Jim Carrey double take when he realized, “Wait a minute! You can’t patent peanut butter and jelly! What are these people smoking?!” Well, it turns out you can patent peanut butter and jelly. I know this because Menusaver did it. In 1999. Nineteen-ninety-nine? Nineteen-ninety-nine! You mean to tell me if I’d been paying attention in intellectual property class, I coulda patented peanut butter and jelly and never had to meet a deadline in my life? You mean this was just sitting out there unprotected, while moms and dads all over America failed to recognize its potential? Apparently. Here’s what the patent describes: “The sandwich includes a lower bread portion, an upper bread portion, an upper filling and a lower filling between the lower and upper bread portions, a center filling sealed between the upper and lower fillings and a crimped edge along an outer perimeter of the bread portions for sealing the fillings therebetween.” “Therebetween!” They actually gave a patent to somebody who used the non-word “therebetween.” It is inconceivable to me that states disbar lawyers every day, but will allow someone who uses the word “therebetween” in a patent application to retain his ticket. And the patent application is for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! (I’m pretty sure this is the most exclamation points I’ve ever used in a column. I don’t much care for exclamation points, but I can’t figure out a way to SHOUT in print.) It says, “The upper and lower fillings are preferably comprised of peanut butter and the center filling is comprised of at least jelly.” (“At least jelly”?! At most, what? Jelly and pat� de foie gras? Jelly and motor oil? Jelly and a diamond bracelet?) That’s it, folks. That’s United States Patent No. 6,004,596. Owned by Len C. Kirtchman of Fergus Falls, Minn., and David Geske of Fargo, N.D. You take two pieces of bread, put peanut butter on each of them, put jelly in the middle, put the bread together so none of the filling is on the outside, and voila! This, the government of the United States of America considers worthy of patent protection. True, Messrs. Kirtchman and Geske have come up with the idea of crimping the edges of the bread to keep the filling from falling out. Apparently when the ice fishing in Fergus Falls tapered off, Lenny and Dave sat around playing with their sandwiches and decided crimping was just the thing to make them better. “Hey, Lenny, lookee here what I did. You smash the edges of the sandwich, it gets all doughy and flat, eh? Pretty cool, eh?” You think this is the idea that impressed the patent examiners? Tell you what. You go home tonight, you make a PBJ. You cut off the crusts. Then you try to crimp the edges to keep the peanut butter and jelly from falling out. Then, after you’ve cleaned up, you hand the resultant three-bite hors d’oeuvre to your 6-year-old and see how impressed she is. But a patent’s a patent, I guess, and although this one seems patently absurd, it’s gonna take a federal district court to sort it out. That’s right. That’s how it ended up in the Daily Journal. They’ve made a federal case out of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s going to be heard on Menusaver’s home court — so to speak — the U. S. District Court in Bay City, Mich. Way out there on the edge of the mitten. Bay City is what would get in your way if you were a moose trying to follow the Saginaw River to Lake Huron. (I don’t know; why do moose do anything?) You wanna know what kinda place Bay City is? Here are the other headlines from the Bay City Times the day the PBJ story broke: “Alfalfa Cooperative Files for Bankruptcy,” “Au Gres Township Decides to Resurvey for Water Project,” and “Councilman Sentenced for Stealing Wallet.” (I oughta move to Bay City; those all sound like columns to me.) This hardly seems the proper venue for anything as important as PBJ. But, then again, the Scopes Monkey Trial was held in Dayton, Tenn., and Jack Dempsey fought Fred Werner in Durango, Colo. At least we don’t have to worry about the judge who oversees this awesome conflict doing too much partying. And Dave and Lenny can drive on over from Blizzard Central in their Suburbans, eh? I figure the rest of us will just teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, waiting to find out if we’re gonna owe back royalties to Menusaver. My parents aren’t too concerned. Mom always refused absolutely to cut crust off my sandwiches. I don’t know whether she was offended by the waste or thought I ought to get used to the cold, hard cruelty of the real world right then and there, but crusts were left on at our house. (First they were left on the bread, then they were left on the plate.) But I am a serial crust-nipper. All of my kids, Bill, Megan and Caitlin, all ate their PBJs without crusts. Made them happy and gave me a nice little taste of peanut butter and jelly every time I made a sandwich. Seemed like a nice tradeoff at the time. Now it means I’m probably gonna have to sign over the 4Runner and my hip-waders to Dave and Lenny. I wonder if they got this idea before they were 25. William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif.

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