|Under 35 U.S. Code Sec. 105 Romulan cloaking technology is not subject to U.S. patent law.|
Source: Memory Alpha.
U.S. law says a bit more on the subject, but the bottom line is that if you invent a patent-able product and you're aboard a U.S. space ship, U.S. law applies to your patent claim. American courts can therefore hear interplanetary patent cases! (Though there haven't actually been any such courts cases just yet.)
Finding this interesting fact got me wondering how Earth laws apply to the International Space Station. The station is a completely international endeavor, as it is constructed of modules built by the Russians, the European Space Agency, the United States, and the Japanese. The current crew consists of a Canadian, two Americans, and three Russians. What if one of them commits a crime affecting another nationality- what country's law applies?
|Judging humanity since 2364.|
In 1998, the fifteen countries that built the ISS signed a treaty, the ISS Intergovernmental Agreement, that explains (among other things) who has criminal jurisdiction aboard the Station. This treaty is just one of a number of international agreements between various countries that establish cooperation in the construction and use of the ISS.
Article 22 of the ISS Intergovernmental Agreement sets forth what happens if a crime were to occur on the Station. If the crime affects just one country (for example, a U.S. astronaut damaging an American-built space station module) then the affected country prosecutes its own astronaut-citizen for the crime. But what if more than one country's astronaut or property is involved?
|Who has jurisdiction?|
Here's a little hypothetical showing how jurisdiction would work for a crime committed aboard the ISS involving multiple nationalities. (As is probably obvious, I recently discovered Star Trek, the original series, on Netflix.)
A Canadian astronaut (I'll call him "Captain Kirk") and a Russian cosmonaut (I'll call him "Ensign Chekov") get into a heated argument in the American-built Destiny module aboard the ISS. The subject of the argument is Ensign Chekov's latest scientific experiment: he's breeding tribbles inside the Destiny Module. There are too many of them, they smell bad, their fur is clogging the station's air filters, etc. Captain Kirk wants to send all the tribbles to Earth on the next Dragon X flight; Chekov objects. The argument escalates. There's some yelling, some pushing and shoving, things get more heated, and before you know it, Captain Kirk has fired a phaser,* wounding Chekov and causing several million dollars worth of damage to the Destiny Module.**
* = No one has actually invented a phaser yet... but if Captain Kirk invented it in an American-built ISS module, he'd be subject to U.S. patent law!
** = Lucky for Kirk, the Ensign didn't have "Chekov's pistol." :-D
|The trouble with tribbles.|
What happens next? Under Article 22, the two victimized countries (the U.S., which suffered damage to Destiny, and Russia, whose national was wounded) are obliged to negotiate with Canada until either (1) Canada agrees with whatever the U.S. and Russia want regarding jurisdiction over the crimes or (2) Canada begins to prosecute Captain Kirk's for his alleged crimes against U.S. property and a Russian national. The three countries have a predetermined amount of time for either of these two events to happen. After that time expires, Russia can prosecute Kirk for the crime against Chekov, and the U.S. can prosecute Kirk for the damage to the Destiny Module.
|Senior governmental officials at the Kennedy Space Center, in the early days of ISS cooperation.|
The ISS Intergovernmental Agreement even provides a process for the alleged criminal's country to extradite him or her to the victim country. Presumably, extradition happens after the alleged criminal returns to Earth... the treaty doesn't contemplate imprisoning someone of one nationality in the victim country's ISS module!
But, there are plans in place for immediately handling unrest or violence aboard the station. Astronauts are subject to an ISS Code of Conduct while in orbit. And, a crew disciplinary policy applies in the event of a violation of the Code of Conduct. Under this policy, Code violations are to be addressed as necessary by the ISS commander. The commander should first issue a verbal warning, then, if necessary, a written reprimand. Finally, he or she is authorized to remove from duty anyone threatening to damage the station or endanger the crew.
|Did someone mention space stations and crime?|
Sources: The European Space Agency; NASA; The International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement; Stacy Ratner, Establishing the Extraterrestrial: Criminal Jurisdiction and the International Space Station, Boston College Int'l and Comp. L. Rev. (1999); Spaceref.com; Space.com.