Tot Tech

Originally appeared in the December 1999 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Tot Tech

BY ANDREW J. McCLURG

In our high-tech information society, product manufacturers are well aware of the importance of product release announcements for generating buzz in the marketplace.

Lawyers often play a crucial role in compiling and reviewing new product documentation prior to its release. Sometimes it goes to their heads, as two Silicon Valley lawyers recently demonstrated:

Product Release Announcement

The development team of Todd and Rita Billington are delighted to announce the release of their new product, Kate, on Wednesday, 2:23 a.m., at Memorial Hospital. Processing difficulties delayed the product release one day, a snag that caused concern and prolonged wailing among the Rita Division of the Billington team.

Product specifications:

Weight: 7 lbs
Length: 20 inches
Memory: none
Connections: cordless once removed from packaging

Although customer response has been warm, critics have accused Kate of being over-engineered and lacking several important features called for in the original user requirements documentation, including a simplified user interface and automatic scream-saver when not in use.

The Billington team resisted investor pressure to outsource the development, insisting on maintaining full creative and legal control over the product and its source code. However, negotiations are already underway with several neighborhood independent contractors to outsource some future product maintenance and support on big nights out.

Kate comes equipped with many features demanded by today’s consumers of high quality tots: drooling, gurgling, cooing, chubby thighs and the prettiest pair of blue input units on the market today. The product is easily booted and rebooted using adorable tiny shoes from the Gap Kids typically delivered by outside suppliers.

Management is currently tackling what it terms “minor bugs” with Kate, including complaints that the product’s dual ports open frequently and without warning. Experts predict the problem will correct itself within 30 to 36 months, the estimated time frame to RAM the idea of using a toilet into long term memory. Until then, the problem is being addressed using extra-absorbent softwear.

Looking for a hard drive? How about an impossible one? Packing Kate’s 300 essential travel accessories, mastering the tech support to install her car seat, and negotiating traffic while faced backwards waving a cookie is guaranteed to make even a trip to the grocery store the hardest drive of your life.

Users must also beware of the virulent “Colic” virus, which rapidly disables all product functions except the sound card.

The product comes with a limited warranty: “Product is warranted to perform reasonably well for 13 years, at which time all operating systems will suddenly crash and product will function erratically and unpredictably. This is normal. Do NOT attempt to return product to place of manufacture as serious injury could result.”

While management irons out these complaints, the Billington team’s primary focus is to make Kate at least modestly compliant by Y2K. Currently, Kate is ignoring all user commands.

(Congratulations to new product owners Markus Weber and Wendy Nather, Chicago, IL, whose real birth announcement inspired this one.)

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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