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There are plenty of lawyers out there who’ve tried to make a name writing legal thrillers, but one of them, Lawrence Townsend, has created a new genre: spoofing Silicon Valley companies and intellectual property law. And his debut novel, “Secrets of the Wholly Grill: A Novel About Cravings, Barbecue, and Software,” has gotten positive reviews. “I thought it was absolutely hilarious,” said J. Thomas McCarthy, a professor at University of San Francisco School of Law and author of the foremost treatise on trademark law. “It’s the first such book with any kind of humor about Silicon Valley and the pretentiousness of dot-com millionaires.” When Townsend, McCarthy’s former student, asked him to write a blurb for the book jacket, McCarthy agreed. He calls the novel “an appealing cross between Tom Wolfe and Jonathan Swift, and a delightful satirical caper through the corporate corridors, courtrooms and clean rooms of the high-tech world.” Townsend, who has a solo practice and also serves as of counsel with San Francisco’s Owen, Wickersham & Erickson, got into the fiction business by chance. A friend of his, Marin County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee, signed him up for a 10-week writing course. She told him he needed to show up with a work in progress, and when he said he didn’t have anything she suggested he start with a legal article he’d written. So Townsend wove a story around the esoteric topic of shrink-wrap licenses. Software packages typically come wrapped in plastic. By breaking open the shrink-wrap or using the product, consumers automatically agree to the terms in the enclosed license. Obviously, most customers don’t read the fine print. “I let my imagine run with that,” Townsend said. He created a fictional software giant that mails packages of sirloin marinated in a trade secret barbecue sauce to millions of homes. The fine print on the shrink-wrap label requires people to cook the meat on the company’s “outdoor cooking information system” dubbed the Wholly Grill. When someone fails to follow these terms, mayhem — and a class action — ensues. Townsend said it was natural to do a satire about intellectual property. “What could be funnier than what’s gone on in the technology sector with software battles, non-disclosure agreements and the rise and fall of dot-coms?,” he said. “It lends itself to satire.” For a first-time author, Townsend had unusual luck. He said a friend of the family who writes for television and movies put him in contact with a literary agent, who got Carroll & Graf Publishers to publish the book. Since the book came out last month Townsend said he’s received feedback from many people who were happy to read a satire of the software industry. He said one reviewer likened his writing style to that of Carl Hiaasen. A few students in his writing class also compared him to the comedic, offbeat writer, he said. Townsend’s delighted by the response to his humor and is eager to continue this newfound career. He’s started a second book, which will look at the biotech field in the same lighthearted vein. “After this thrill it’s pretty hard to let go of reaching for another thrill,” he said.

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