Suing the Aliens (intellectual exercise)

Let’s say that one day the Gray Aliens show up and decide to stick around for a while and, while they do not freely give us technology as the overly optimistic might desire, we do become acquainted with some of it.

Let us assume that some of it, small bits here and there, is very similar to technology we already have.

Of course, someone, somewhere is going to want to sue the Grays for patent infringement. “Hey, you have touch screen interfaces! We own that idea!” or “We own the concept of recording digital media in ways similar to that!”

What traction would this gain and/or what limitations would be placed on this sort of thing, as the legal system currently stands?

Nope. I don’t think they’d be subject to any treaties regarding patents. Nor would our patent laws apply to something made in another solar system by an alien species.

If we were able to bombard their planet with very large rocks, suffering no retaliation or repercussions ourselves… Then we would “win” any patent infringement lawsuit.

If on the other hand, they had the technology to bombard OUR planet with very large rocks, suffering no retaliation or repercussions themselves… They THEY win any patent infringement lawsuit.

It’s just that simple.

None, until we sign some treaties.

Even if you could sue them and win, what would you do with the settlement of 300 trillion blookazoopers in alien money?

If anything the Greys’ technology should invalidate patents, not the other way around. If people have developed the same technology in a vacuum, it means your invention is not innovative enough to be protected by a patent.

Only persons can sue or be sued. Legally speaking, persons are either human beings, or corporations.

Aliens are not legally recognised as persons You can’t sue them.


Well, 40 yorlocks can get you two signed 8x12s and a handjob.

That’s for the courts to decide. I for one do not think that most judges in the U.S. would not even allow a lawsuit for or against aliens, as long as they could communicate with us sufficiently. And they’d sure as heck be able to hire a lawyer to represent them, who wouldn’t want to achieve fame as the first lawyer to sue aliens.

This is of course barring any hasty “an alien is not a person” legislation passed upon first contact.

Well that’s the ticket. I expect there’s some patent troll somewhere who would want to try it, just to get attention and see what happens.

Invalidating our own patents because it was developed on other worlds would cause crippling economic chaos, so I don’t expect that to happen either. I expect there may be some issues if they tried to SELL technology that infringed on existing patents, but therein lies the rub.

I’m betting that personhood would be extended very quickly. Like, before someone tries that argument as a defense in a murder case.

And if the legislature doesn’t do it, the courts certainly would.

Euphonious Polemic: There might be something to what you say, but I prefer to imagine that the legal system would try to operate regardless of the gross realities of military power.

The United States government has a gigantic army, and tanks, and soldiers, and flame-throwers – and yet ordinary citizens have sued it and won. Pure power is not always the sole discriminant of legal victory.

What if it turns out the aliens did not develop all of their technology independently, but had intercepted our radio transmissions from afar and essentially stole some patented technology. Boy, then they’d be in some big trouble, right?

Precedent in Ontario states: aliens cannot sue. See: Joly v. Pelletier, [1999] O.J. No. 1728 (Ont. S.C.).


See: United States v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency

Yes suing objects is stupid, but aliens ought to be considered persons.

I’m fairly certain that if someone were to kill the Alien Ambassador or a member of it’s staff, we’d try them for murder, no questions asked. To do otherwise would be absurdly stupid and begs the question “If we don’t recognize them as ‘people’, what happens if they decide we’re not ‘people’?”

Chimera: Agreed. In my post, I almost mentioned the near-certainty of the courts extending personhood automatically, simply by hearing such a case.

Of course, much depends on what kind of alien! What if they are a “hive mind,” consisting of thousands of little floppy jellyfish thingies. Or what if they don’t even have the concept of “law” at all. (They may be a perfectly cooperating species, and would look upon us with some horror.)

When I first started reading the title and the very beginning of the OP, I assumed we’d be suing them for emotional/physical damage from all the anal probes.

One in ten doesn’t really seem to mind

I suppose that as long as the aliens didn’t try to manufacture and sell (or even give away) their technology on the market, they’d have few difficulties.

Then there’d also be the question of what would happen if Humans tried to patent Alien technology, or if Aliens patented the technology they wished to sell us.