Taken as a whole, a patent on such a concept doesn't seem too worrisome at first -- but when we get a look at the individual claims, it will likely be more troublesome. Just a few months ago, The Guardian outlined just such a scenario and its disasterous results:
Here's one example of a hypothetical literary patent:The article points out that Hugo might have infringed not only the above fictional patent, but other simple patents as well, such as a patent on a "fictionalised portrayal of the Battle of Waterloo." Likewise, if the three claims listed above belonged to seperate patents instead of a single patent, Les Misérables would have infringed all three.
Claim 1: a communication process that represents, in the mind of a reader, the concept of a character who has been in jail for a long time and becomes bitter towards society and humankind.
Claim 2: a communication process according to claim 1, wherein said character subsequently finds moral redemption through the kindness of another.
Claim 3: a communication process according to claims 1 and 2, wherein said character changes his name during the story.
If such a patent had existed in 1862 when Les Misérables was published, the novel would have infringed all three claims - all these things happened to Jean Valjean in the novel. Hugo could have been sued, and would have lost. The novel could have been prohibited - in effect, censored - by the patent holder.
If the entertainment industry becomes as entangled with plotline patents as the tech industry is with software patents, we might begin to see the decline of the independent filmmaker (who can't afford the licensing and litigation costs that large studios will certainly impose), increased production costs, and greatly decreased diversity of offerings -- all symptoms of a market that thrives more on monopoly power than on innovation.
Updated: see new post describing some details of the patent.