Friday, January 26, 2024

Are Lawyers, Lawmakers, and Law Professors Really Ready for AI in 2024?

We just finished our second week of the semester and I’m already exhausted, partly because I just submitted the first draft of a law review article that’s 123 pages with over 600 footnotes on a future-proof framework for AI regulation to the University of Tennessee Journal of Business Law. I should have stuck with my original topic of legal ethics and AI.

But alas, who knew so much would happen in 2023? I certainly didn’t even though I spent the entire year speaking on AI to lawyers, businesspeople, and government officials. So, I decided to change my topic in late November as it became clearer that the EU would finally take action on the EU AI Act and that the Brussels effect would likely take hold requiring other governments and all the big players in the tech space to take notice and sharpen their own agendas.

But I’m one of the lucky ones because although I’m not a techie, I’m a former chief privacy officer, and spend a lot of time thinking about things like data protection and cybersecurity, especially as it relates to AI. And I recently assumed the role of GC of an AI startup. So, because I’m tech-adjacent, I’ve spent hours every day immersed in the legal and tech issues related to large and small language models, generative AI (GAI), artificial general intelligence (AGI), APIs, singularity, the Turing test, and the minutiae of potential regulation around the world. I’ve become so immersed that I actually toggled between listening to the outstanding Institute for Well-Being In Law virtual conference and the FTC’s 4-hour tech summit yesterday with founders, journalists, economists, and academics. Adding more fuel to the fire, just before the summit kicked off, the FTC announced an inquiry into the partnerships and investments of  Alphabet, Inc., Amazon.com, Inc., Anthropic PBC, Microsoft Corp., and OpenAI, Inc. Between that and the NY Times lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft alleging billions in damages for purported IP violations, we are living in interesting times.

If you’ve paid attention to the speeches at Davos, you know that it was all AI all the time. I follow statements from the tech leaders like other people follow their fantasy football stats or NCAA brackets. Many professors, CEOs, and general consumers, on the other hand, have been caught by surprise by the very rapid acceleration of the developments, particularly related to generative AI.

However, now more members of the general public are paying attention to the concept of deepfakes and demanding legislation in part because the supernova that is Taylor Swift has been victimized by someone creating fake pornographic images of her. We should be even more worried about the real and significant threat to the integrity of the fifty global elections and occurring in 2024 where members of the public may be duped into believing that political candidates have said things that they did not, such as President Biden telling people not to vote in the New Hampshire primary and to save their votes for November.

For those of us who teach in law schools in the US and who were either grading or recovering from grading in December, we learned a few days before Christmas that Lexis was rolling out its AI solution for 2Ls and 3Ls. Although I had planned to allow and even teach my students the basics of prompt engineering and using AI as a tool (and not a substitute for lawyering) in my business associations, contract drafting, and business and human rights class, now I have to also learn Lexis’ solution too. I feel for those professors who still ban the use of generative AI or aren’t equipped to teach students how to use it ethically and effectively.

Even so, I’m excited and my students are too. The legal profession is going to change dramatically over the next two years, and it’s our job as professors to prepare our students. Thompson Reuters, the ABA, and state courts have made it clear that we can’t sit by on the sidelines hoping that this fad will pass.

Professionally, I have used AI to redraft an employee handbook in my client’s voice (using my employment law knowledge, of course), prepare FAQs for another client’s code of conduct in a very specialized industry, prepare interview questions for my podcast, and draft fact patterns for simulations for conferences and in class. I’ve also tested its ability to draft NDAs and other simple agreements using only ChatGPT. It didn’t do so well there, but that’s because I know what I was looking for. And when I gave additional instructions, for example, about drafting a mutual indemnification clause and then a separate supercap, it did surprisingly well. But I know what should be in these agreements. The average layperson does not, something that concerns Chief Justice Roberts and should concern us all.

How have you changed your teaching with the advent of generative AI? If you’re already writing or teaching about AI or just want more resources, join the 159 law professors in a group founded by Professors April Dawson and Dan Linna. As for my law review article, I’m sure a lot of it will be obsolete by the time it’s published, but it should still be an interesting, if not terrifying, read for some.

January 26, 2024 in Business Associations, Compliance, Consulting, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, International Law, Jobs, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Science, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 10, 2023

New York Law School Faculty Openings!

Full-Time Tenure Track Faculty Positions

New York Law School (NYLS), located in the heart of Tribeca, invites applications for full-time faculty tenure-track or lateral positions. Although we welcome applications from candidates in all fields, we are particularly interested in hearing from those who focus on business law (all areas), intellectual property law, technology and privacy law, and teaching basic first-year courses in torts and contracts. 

NYLS is deeply committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive community. We warmly welcome applications from any and all candidates whose background, lived experiences, and viewpoints will contribute to an exceptional learning environment. To view NYLS's Strategic Plan, visit www.nyls.edu/strategy, and for information on the School's commitment to diversity and inclusion, see www.nyls.edu/diversity.

Compensation

The salary range is from $150,000 to $210,000, expressed in annual terms.

How to Apply

Please submit a detailed curriculum vitae listing relevant legal practice and law school experience, a cover letter expressing your interest and describing your qualifications, and a list of references, to William P. LaPiana, Dean of Faculty, at [email protected].

New York Law School is an Equal Opportunity Employer

All qualified candidates will receive consideration for employment without regard to of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, or veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

August 10, 2023 in Business Associations, Intellectual Property, Joan Heminway, Jobs, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Suffolk Law is Seeking a Clinical Professor to Lead its Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic!

Suffolk University Law School’s nationally ranked Clinical Programs, expects to conduct a search for a tenured or tenure-track Clinical Professor to lead our Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic (IPEC), to begin in the 2024-25 school yearIPEC is a full-year in-house clinicone of Suffolk’s 12 in-house clinics, and an important part of Suffolk Law’s outstanding Clinical Programs. Suffolk’s Clinical Programs have been ranked among the top 20 such programs in U.S. News & World Report for more than a decade. Our Clinical Professors have full tenure and are wholly integrated into our faculty, including having equity in terms of faculty rights, perquisites, and responsibilities. IPEC is also integrated into Suffolk’s recently launched Intellectual Property Center and its Intellectual Property Concentration, which includes a number of highly regarded faculty. Suffolk Law’s intellectual property program is regularly ranked among the nation’s best and was most recently ranked number 31 in the country.

We seek candidates with a commitment to excellence in teachingscholarship, and serviceCandidates must have at least five years of relevant experience in one or more areas of intellectual property, including patent, trademark, and/or copyright practiceApplicants must also be admitted or eligible for admission to the Massachusetts bar within a year of the start of the appointmentPrior experience in clinical education or a demonstrated passion for teaching or mentoring is also required. A record of scholarship or demonstrated interest in producing scholarship, as well as an intellectual engagement with the subject matter is requiredExperience working with diverse communities, clients, and other stakeholders is strongly preferred.

The Clinical Professor will have the opportunity to shape the docket of IPEC to meet students’ needs and align with their expertise and interests. The Clinical Professor will similarly shape the content of the accompanying seminar to educate students on relevant substantive law and lawyering skills, including the ethical dimensions of practice, cross-cultural lawyering, critical reflection, and the formation of a professional identity.

Currently, students enrolled in IPEC represent small and emerging businesses from communities unlikely to have access to legal services. Students work on a variety of intellectual property and entrepreneurial matters, including those related to branding, copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, and privacy protections. IPEC students also currently counsel entrepreneurs and start-up companies on business law matters, such as incorporation, contract law, and IP strategy. Past clients of IPEC have included artists, authors, designers, filmmakers, musicians, innovatorsindividual entrepreneurs, small businesses, some established corporations, and nonprofit organizations. IPEC has participated in the USPTO’s Law School Clinic Certification Program. You can read more about IPEC here.

Applicants should submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae, research agenda, description of current scholarship (if any), and teaching evaluations (if any). Applicants are also encouraged to submit a diversity statement that describes previous activities mentoring members of underrepresented groups, how issues relating to diversity and inclusion have been or will be addressed in their teaching and practiceand how their scholarship or service would contribute to building and supporting inclusive communities. Cover letters should be addressed to Professor Ragini Shah, Chair of the Clinical Committee.  We will be reviewing candidates on a rolling basis and encourage early inquiries and applications. 

Suffolk University does not discriminate against any person on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religious creed, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, age, genetic information, or status as a veteran in admission to, access to, treatment in, or employment in its programs, activities, or employment. As an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer, the University is dedicated to the goal of building a diverse and inclusive faculty and staff that reflect the broad range of human experience who contribute to the robust exchange of ideas on campus, and who are committed to teaching and working in a diverse environment. We strongly encourage applications from groups historically marginalized or underrepresented because of race/color, gender, religious creed, disability, national origin, veteran status or LGBTQ status. Suffolk University is especially interested in candidates who, through their training, service and experience, will contribute to the diversity and excellence of the University community.

August 9, 2023 in Clinical Education, Entrepreneurship, Intellectual Property, Joan Heminway, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 7, 2023

Generative AI Is the Greatest Thing Since the Discovery of Fire And/Or Will Kill Us All

Depending on who you talk to, you get some pretty extreme perspectives on generative AI. In a former life, I used to have oversight of the lobbying and PAC money for a multinational company. As we all know, companies never ask to be regulated. So when an industry begs for regulation, you know something is up. 

Two weeks ago, I presented the keynote speech to the alumni of AESE, Portugal’s oldest business school, on the topic of my research on business, human rights, and technology with a special focus on AI. If you're attending Connecting the Threads in October, you'll hear some of what I discussed.

I may have overprepared, but given the C-Suite audience, that’s better than the alternative. For me that meant spending almost 100 hours  reading books, articles, white papers, and watching videos by data scientists, lawyers, ethicists, government officials, CEOs, and software engineers. 

Because I wanted the audience to really think about their role in our future, I spent quite a bit of time on the doom and gloom scenarios, which the Portuguese press highlighted. I cited the talk by the creators of the Social Dilemma, who warned about the dangers of social media algorithms and who are now raising the alarms about AI's potential existential threat to humanity in a talk called the AI Dilemma.

I used statistics from the Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum on potential job displacement and from Yale's Jeffrey Sonnenfeld on what CEOs think and are planning for. Of the 119 CEOs from companies like Walmart, Coca-Cola, Xerox and Zoom, 34% of CEOs said AI could potentially destroy humanity in ten years, 8% said that it could happen in five years,  and 58% said that could never happen and they are “not worried.” 42% said the doom and gloom  is overstated, while 58% said it was not. I told the audience about deepfakes where AI can now mimic someone's voice in three seconds.

But in reality, there's also a lot of hope. For the past two days I've been up at zero dark thirty to watch the live stream of the AI For Good Global Summit in Geneva. The recordings are available on YouTube. While there was a more decidedly upbeat tone from these presenters, there was still some tamping down of the enthusiasm.

Fun random facts? People have been using algorithms to make music since the 60s. While many are worried about the intellectual property implications for AI and the arts, AI use was celebrated at the summit. Half of humanity's working satellites belong to Elon Musk. And  a task force of 120 organizations is bringing the hammer down on illegal deforestation in Brazil using geospatial AI. They've already netted 2 billion in penalties. 

For additional perspective, for two of the first guests on my new podcast, I've interviewed lawyer and mediator, Mitch Jackson, an AI enthusiast, and tech veteran, Stephanie Sylvestre, who's been working with OpenAI for years and developed her own AI product somehow managing to garner one million dollars worth of free services for her startup, Avatar Buddy. Links to their episodes are here (and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast).

If you’re in business or advising business, could you answer the following questions I asked the audience of executives and government officials in Portugal?

  • How are you integrating human rights considerations into your company's strategy and decision-making processes, particularly concerning the deployment and use of new technologies?

 

  • Can you describe how your company's corporate governance structure accounts for human rights and ethical considerations, particularly with regards to the use and impact of emerging technologies?

 

  • How are you planning to navigate the tension between increasing automation in your business operations and the potential for job displacement among your workforce?

 

  • How does your company approach balancing the need for innovation and competitive advantage with the potential societal and human rights impact of technologies like facial recognition and surveillance?

 

  • In what ways is your company actively taking steps to ensure that your supply chain, especially for tech components, is free from forced labor or other human rights abuses?

 

  • As data becomes more valuable, how is your company ensuring ethical data collection and usage practices? Are these practices in line with both domestic and international human rights and privacy standards?

 

  • What steps are you taking to ensure digital accessibility and inclusivity, thereby avoiding the risk of creating or enhancing digital divides?

 

  • How is your company taking into account the potential environmental impacts of your technology, including e-waste and energy consumption, and what steps are being taken to mitigate these risks while promoting sustainable development?

 

  • What financial incentives do you have in place to do the ”right thing” even if it’s much less profitable? What penalties do you have in place for the “wrong” behavior?

 

  • Will governments come together to regulate or will the fate of humanity lie in the hands of A few large companies?

Luckily, we had cocktails right after I asked those questions.

Are you using generative AI like ChatGPT4 or another source in your business 0r practice? If you teach, are you integrating it into the classroom? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

July 7, 2023 in Business School, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Science, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 1, 2022

Belmont University (Nashville, TN) - Assistant Professor of Business Systems and Analytics

BelmontU

We are hiring for an open Assistant Professor of Business Systems and Analytics position.

We will consider lawyers/law professors with data governance/privacy law experience/research.

I am on the hiring committee; feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

Position posting here.

August 1, 2022 in Business Associations, Business School, Haskell Murray, Intellectual Property, Jobs, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 31, 2021

New Year's Resolution for Lawyers

People rarely keep resolutions, much less ones they don’t make for themselves, but here are some you may want to try.

  1. Post information about the law and current events that lay people can understand on social media. You don’t need to be a TikTok lawyer and dance around, but there’s so much misinformation out there by “influencers” that lawyers almost have a responsibility to correct the record.
  2. Embrace legal tech. Change is scary for most lawyers, but we need to get with the times, and you can start off in areas such as legal research, case management, accounting, billing, document automation and storage, document management, E-discovery, practice management, legal chatbots, automaton of legal workflow, contract management, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based applications. Remember, lawyers have an ethical duty of technological competence.
  3. Learn about legal issues related to the metaverse such as data privacy and IP challenges.
  4. Do a data security audit and ensure you understand where your and your clients’ data is and how it’s being transmitted, stored, and destroyed. Lawyers have access to valuable confidential information and hackers know that. Lawyers also have ethical obligations to safeguard that information. Are you communicating with clients on WhatsApp or text messages? Do you have Siri or Alexa enabled when you’re talking about client matters? You may want to re-think that. Better yet, hire a white hat hacker to assess your vulnerabilities. I'll do a whole separate post on this because this is so critical. 
  5. Speaking of data, get up to speed on data analytics. Your clients use data every day to optimize their business performance. Compliance professionals and in-house lawyers know that this is critical. All lawyers should as well.
  6. Get involved with government affairs. Educate legislators, write comment letters, and publish op-ed pieces so that people making the laws and influencing lawmakers can get the benefit of your analytical skills. Just make sure you’re aware of the local, state, and federal lobbying laws.
  7. Learn something completely new. When you do your CLE requirement, don’t just take courses in your area of expertise. Take a class that has nothing to do with what you do for a living. If you think that NFTs and cryptocurrency are part of a fad waiting to implode, take that course. You’ll either learn something new or prove yourself right.
  8. Re-think how you work. What can you stop, start, and continue doing in your workplace and family life?
  9. Be strategic when thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lawyers talk about it, but from what I observe in my lawyer coaching practice and the statistics, the reality is much different on the ground and efforts often backfire.
  10. Prioritize your mental health and that of the members on your team. Do you need to look at billable hours requirements? What behavior does your bonus or promotion system incentivize? What else can you do to make sure that people are valued and continually learning? When was the last time you conducted an employee engagement survey and really listened to what you team members are saying? Whether your team is remote or hybrid, what can you do to make people believe they are part of a larger mission? There are so many resources out there. If you do nothing else on this list, please focus on this one. If you want help on how to start, send me an email.

Wishing you a safe, healthy, and happy 2022.

December 31, 2021 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Film, Intellectual Property, Jobs, Law Firms, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Technology, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Belmont University - Nashville, TN - Assistant Professor of Creative & Entertainment Industries (Law)

Outcomes-header
Apply to be my (across-campus) colleague.

Belmont University is hiring for a tenure track professor position in our Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business. One of the main courses taught would be Entertainment Law and Licensing. I've lived in a half-dozen different cities and Nashville is my favorite by far. And Belmont has been a fabulous place to work. I am on the hiring committee, so feel free to reach out to me with questions.  

Details here

October 7, 2021 in Haskell Murray, Intellectual Property, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 11, 2021

IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law Seeks Visitors

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law seeks one or more entry-level or experienced applicants interested in serving as a full-time, temporary faculty member for the 2021-2022 academic year. Subject matter needs include property, intellectual property, administrative law, and health law-related courses. 

As part of IUPUI, Indiana’s premier urban research institution, the law school is committed to being a welcoming community that reflects and enacts the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion that inform academic excellence. We seek candidates who will not only enhance our representational diversity but whose research, teaching, and community-engagement efforts contribute to diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning and working environments for our students, staff, and faculty. IU McKinney condemns racism in all its forms and has taken an anti-racist stance that moves beyond mere statements to interrogating its policies, procedures, and practices. We hope to identify individuals who will assist in our mission to dismantle racism so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed at IU McKinney. The law school is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Institution with a strong commitment to inclusion and offers domestic partner benefits: https://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/about/administration/policies/diversity-and-inclusion.html. For more information about the school, please visit http://indylaw.indiana.edu/.

Interested candidates should submit a CV and cover letter to Vice Dean Cynthia Adams at [email protected]. Individuals who require a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in the application process should give Vice Dean Adams adequate notice.  Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis with February 1 as the deadline for all applications.

January 11, 2021 in Intellectual Property, Joan Heminway, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

VISITING CLINICAL ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, BU/MIT Startup Law Clinic -- Boston University School of Law

A job posting that may be of interest to some of our readers.

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Job Description
BOSTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, a top-tier law school with an international reputation, is a community of leading legal scholars, teachers, students, and alumni, dedicated to providing one of the finest legal educations in the world. The breadth and depth of our curriculum, especially our clinical program, as well as our innovative spirit are distinctive in American legal education.

Boston University School of Law is seeking to hire a full-time attorney in its Startup Law Clinic (the “Clinic”). The Clinic is part of BU Law’s Entrepreneurship, Intellectual Property, and Cyberlaw Program, which is a unique collaboration between BU Law and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The School of Law believes that the cultural and social diversity of our faculty, staff, and students is vitally important to the distinction and excellence of our academic programs. To that end, we are especially eager to hear from applicants who support our institutional commitment to BU as an inclusive, equitable, and diverse community.

The Clinic represents current students at MIT and BU on matters related to a wide range of legal issues faced by early-stage business ventures. The attorney would be expected to help law students counsel clients and represent students in transactional settings. Clients often present questions of law involving for-profit and nonprofit entity formation, allocations of equity, startup financing, employment and independent contractor issues, ownership of intellectual property, privacy policies, terms of service and other third-party contractual relationships, and trademark and copyright matters. Experience representing startup ventures is considered a plus.

The attorney’s primary responsibility will be to supervise and assist students with direct client representation matters. The attorney will also assist the Clinic Director and Assistant Director in preparing and teaching a year-long seminar for students enrolled in the Clinic, including developing materials, performing research, and coordinating classroom activities and guest presentations. The position is a year-round position and the attorney also would work with student fellows hired to continue the work of the clinic during the summer. As time allows, the attorney would also work with the Clinic Director and Assistant Director to develop generalized legal resources and informational material to inform MIT and BU students on the legal aspects of forming and operating for-profit and nonprofit entities.

The ideal candidate is a member of the Massachusetts bar or is eligible for membership via admission by motion, with at least two years of experience advising clients in a transactional setting, and a willingness to support the work of creative and innovative young clients. Teaching experience or a strong interest in developing as a clinical faculty member is also considered a plus. Exceptional writing, editing, organizational, and managerial skills are required.

The attorney will be hired as a Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor to a two-year contract. The ideal start date is May 24, 2021.

Since we opened our doors in 1872, Boston University School of Law has been committed to admitting and building our classes without regard to race, gender, or religion. We are dedicated to building a just, inclusive, and engaged community of faculty and students. We have more work to do to make our environment more just. Boston University School of Law is committed not only to the ideals of faculty diversity and inclusion but also to the work of creating and implementing practices that combat exclusion and inequity by race, gender, gender identity, disability status, religion, or other identities subject to historical subordination. We strive to foster a more inclusive intellectual culture that represents and encourages a broad range of intellectual traditions and approaches to the law. We welcome expressions of interest from applicants of all identities, intellectual traditions, and perspectives.

DO NOT APPLY THROUGH THE BU WEBSITE:
Applicants should send a letter of interest and a resume to Jim Wheaton, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Startup Law Clinic. Email applications are encouraged and should be sent to [email protected]. Applications received on or before January 31, 2021 will be given full consideration.

To learn more about the law school, visit our website at www.bu.edu/law, and to learn more about the Clinic, please visit https://sites.bu.edu/startuplaw/. If you have specific questions about the position, contact Jim Wheaton at [email protected].

We are an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law. We are a VEVRAA Federal Contractor.

Job Location
BOSTON, Massachusetts, United States
Position Type
Full-Time/Regular
Salary Grade
Competitive

December 1, 2020 in Clinical Education, Haskell Murray, Intellectual Property, Jobs, Law School, Lawyering | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 3, 2020

Drake Hiring Announcements - Technology and Law

Drake University invites applications from entry level and lateral candidates for a tenure-track Assistant/Associate Professor of Law position beginning in the 2021-22 academic year.  We are interested in candidates with demonstrated interest or experience in Technology Law. Applicants must hold a J.D. degree (or the equivalent) and should have a record of academic excellence, substantial academic or practice experience, and a passion for teaching. Appointment rank will be determined commensurate with the candidate’s qualifications and experience.

In addition to service and scholarship, this position involves teaching courses such as Legal/Ethical Issues in Technology, Technology Law, Privacy Law, and related areas in both the Law School and the College of Arts & Sciences as well as advising law and undergraduate students and serving as a University resource on technology legal issues.

Drake University sustains a vibrant intellectual culture, and Des Moines has been recognized as the Best Place to Live (US News), the Best Place for Young Professionals (Forbes), and as the #1 Best U.S. City for Business (MarketWatch).

Drake University is an equal opportunity employer and actively seeks applicants who reflect the nation’s diversity.  No applicant shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, creed, religion, age, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information or veteran status. Diversity is one of Drake’s core values and applicants need to demonstrate an ability to work with individuals and groups of diverse backgrounds.

Confidential review of applications will begin immediately. Applications (including a letter of interest, a complete CV, teaching evaluations (if available), a diversity statement, and the names and addresses of at least three references) should be sent to Professor Ellen Yee, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, Drake University Law School, 2507 University Ave., Des Moines, IA 50311 or e-mail: [email protected].

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Drake University Law School invites applications from entry level and lateral candidates for a tenure-track or tenured Assistant/Associate/Professor of Law position beginning in the 2021-22 academic year.  We are especially interested in candidates with demonstrated interest or experience in Contracts, Sales, Tax, Intellectual Property, and Family Law. Applicants must hold a J.D. degree (or the equivalent) and should have a record of academic excellence, substantial academic or practice experience, and a passion for teaching. Appointment rank will be determined commensurate with the candidate’s qualifications and experience.

Drake University Law School sustains a vibrant intellectual culture, and Des Moines has been recognized as the Best Place to Live (US News), the Best Place for Young Professionals (Forbes), and as the #1 Best U.S. City for Business (MarketWatch). The Law School features innovative and nationally recognized programs in agricultural law, constitutional law, legal research and writing, and practical training.

Drake University is an equal opportunity employer and actively seeks applicants who reflect the nation’s diversity.  No applicant shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, creed, religion, age, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information or veteran status. Diversity is one of Drake’s core values and applicants need to demonstrate an ability to work with individuals and groups of diverse socioeconomic, cultural, sexual orientation, disability, and/or ethnic backgrounds.

Confidential review of applications will begin immediately. Applications (including a letter of interest, a complete CV, teaching evaluations (if available), a diversity statement, and the names and addresses of at least three references) should be sent to Professor Ellen Yee, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, Drake University Law School, 2507 University Ave., Des Moines, IA 50311 or e-mail: [email protected].

August 3, 2020 in Commercial Law, Contracts, Ethics, Intellectual Property, Joan Heminway, Jobs, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Should Corporate Lawyers and Business Law Professors Be Talking About DAOs?

Did I lose you with the title to this post? Do you have no idea what a DAO is? In its simplest terms, a DAO is a decentralized autonomous organization, whose decisions are made electronically by a written computer code or through the vote of its members. In theory, it eliminates the need for traditional documentation and people for governance. This post won't explain any more about DAOs or the infamous hack of the Slock.it DAO in 2016. I chose this provocative title to inspire you to read an article entitled Legal Education in the Blockchain Revolution.

The authors Mark Fenwick, Wulf A. Kaal, and Erik P. M. Vermeulen discuss how technological innovations, including artificial intelligence and blockchain will change how we teach and practice law related to real property, IP, privacy, contracts, and employment law. If you're a practicing lawyer, you have a duty of competence. You need to know what you don't know so that you avoid advising on areas outside of your level of expertise. It may be exciting to advise a company on tax, IP, securities law or other legal issues related to cryptocurrency or blockchain, but you could subject yourself to discipline for doing so without the requisite background. If you teach law, you will have students clamoring for information on innovative technology and how the law applies. Cornell University now offers 28 courses on blockchain, and a professor at NYU's Stern School of Business has 235 people in his class. Other schools are scrambling to find professors qualified to teach on the subject. 

To understand the hype, read the article on the future of legal education. The abstract is below:

The legal profession is one of the most disrupted sectors of the consulting industry today. The rise of Legal Tech, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, and, most importantly, blockchain technology is changing the practice of law. The sharing economy and platform companies challenge many of the traditional assumptions, doctrines, and concepts of law and governance, requiring litigators, judges, and regulators to adapt. Lawyers need to be equipped with the necessary skillsets to operate effectively in the new world of disruptive innovation in law. A more creative and innovative approach to educating lawyers for the 21st century is needed.

For more on how blockchain is changing business and corporate governance, come by my talk at the University of Tennessee on September 14th where you will also hear from my co-bloggers. In case you have no interest in my topic, it's worth the drive/flight to hear from the others. The descriptions of the sessions are below:

Session 1: Breach of Fiduciary Duty and the Defense of Reliance on Experts

Many corporate statutes expressly provide that directors in discharging their duties may rely in good faith upon information, opinions, reports, or statements from officers, board committees, employees, or other experts (such as accountants or lawyers). Such statutes often come into play when directors have been charged with breaching their procedural duty of care by making an inadequately informed decision, but they can be applicable in other contexts as well. In effect, the statutes provide a defense to directors charged with breach of fiduciary duty when their allegedly uninformed or wrongful decisions were based on credible information provided by others with appropriate expertise. Professor Douglas Moll will examine these “reliance on experts” statutes and explore a number of questions associated with them.

Session 2: Fact or Fiction: Flawed Approaches to Evaluating Market Behavior in Securities Litigation

Private fraud actions brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act require courts to make a variety of determinations regarding market functioning and the economic effects of the alleged misconduct. Over the years, courts have developed a variety of doctrines to guide how these inquiries are to be conducted. For example, courts look to a series of specific, pre-defined factors to determine whether a market is “efficient” and thus responsive to new information. Courts also rely on a variety of doctrines to determine whether and for how long publicly-available information has exerted an influence on security prices. Courts’ judgments on these matters dictate whether cases will proceed to summary judgment and trial, whether classes will be certified and the scope of such classes, and the damages that investors are entitled to collect. Professor Ann M. Lipton will discuss how these doctrines operate in such an artificial manner that they no longer shed light on the underlying factual inquiry, namely, the actual effect of the alleged fraud on investors.

Session 3: Lawyering for Social Enterprise

Professor Joan Heminway will focus on salient components of professional responsibility operative in delivering advisory legal services to social enterprises. Social enterprises—businesses that exist to generate financial and social or environmental benefits—have received significant positive public attention in recent years. However, social enterprise and the related concepts of social entrepreneurship and impact investing are neither well defined nor well understood. As a result, entrepreneurs, investors, intermediaries, and agents, as well as their respective advisors, may be operating under different impressions or assumptions about what social enterprise is and have different ideas about how to best build and manage a sustainable social enterprise business. Professor Heminway will discuss how these legal uncertainties have the capacity to generate transaction costs around entity formation and management decision making and the pertinent professional responsibilities implicated in an attorney’s representation of such social enterprises.

Session 4: Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain for Corporate Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management

Although many people equate blockchain with bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts, Professor Marcia Narine Weldon will discuss how the technology also has the potential to transform the way companies look at governance and enterprise risk management. Companies and stock exchanges are using blockchain for shareholder communications, managing supply chains, internal audit, and cybersecurity. Professor Weldon will focus on eliminating barriers to transparency in the human rights arena. Professor Weldon’s discussion will provide an overview of blockchain technology and how state and nonstate actors use the technology outside of the realm of cryptocurrency.

Session 5: Crafting State Corporate Law for Research and Review

Professor Benjamin Edwards will discuss how states can implement changes in state corporate law with an eye toward putting in place provisions and measures to make it easier for policymakers to retrospectively review changes to state law to discern whether legislation accomplished its stated goals. State legislatures often enact and amend their business corporation laws without considering how to review and evaluate their effectiveness and impact. This inattention means that state legislatures quickly lose sight of whether the changes actually generate the benefits desired at the time off passage. It also means that state legislatures may not observe stock price reactions or other market reactions to legislation. Our federal system allows states to serve as the laboratories of democracy. The controversy over fee-shifting bylaws and corporate charter provisions offers an opportunity for state legislatures to intelligently design changes in corporate law to achieve multiple state and regulatory objectives. Professor Edwards will discuss how well-crafted legislation would: (i) allow states to compete effectively in the market for corporate charters; and (ii) generate useful information for evaluating whether particular bylaws or charter provisions enhance shareholder wealth.

Session 6: An Overt Disclosure Requirement for Eliminating the Duty of Loyalty

When Delaware law allowed parties to eliminate the duty of loyalty for LLCs, more than a few people were appalled. Concerns about eliminating the duty of loyalty are not surprising given traditional business law fiduciary duty doctrine. However, as business agreements evolved, and became more sophisticated, freedom of contract has become more common, and attractive. How to reconcile this tradition with the emerging trend? Professor Joshua Fershée will discuss why we need to bring a partnership principle to LLCs to help. In partnerships, the default rule is that changes to the partnership agreement or acts outside the ordinary course of business require a unanimous vote. See UPA § 18(h) & RUPA § 401(j). As such, the duty of loyalty should have the same requirement, and perhaps that even the rule should be mandatory, not just default. The duty of loyalty norm is sufficiently ingrained that more active notice (and more explicit consent) is necessary, and eliminating the duty of loyalty is sufficiently unique that it warrants unique treatment if it is to be eliminated.

Session 7: Does Corporate Personhood Matter? A Review of We the Corporations

Professor Stefan Padfield will discuss a book written by UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler, “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights.” The highly-praised book “reveals the secret history of one of America’s most successful yet least-known ‘civil rights movements’ – the centuries-long struggle for equal rights for corporations.” However, the book is not without its controversial assertions, particularly when it comes to its characterizations of some of the key components of corporate personhood and corporate personality theory. This discussion will unpack some of these assertions, hopefully ensuring that advocates who rely on the book will be informed as to alternative approaches to key issues.

 

September 1, 2018 in Ann Lipton, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, International Business, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering, LLCs, Marcia Narine Weldon, Real Property, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Business of Designing for the Olympics

As I watch the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, I am struck by all of the design work that goes into the ceremony and the games.  Who designs the vast opening and closing ceremony productions?  Does the host country hire some or all the people who appear in the productions or are some or all volunteers?  Who holds the intellectual property rights to the program elements and the recording of the program?  The International Olympic Committee, I guess . . . .  It strikes me that the Olympic Games have become big business, and intellectual property rights have become important to the value of that business.  The World Intellectual Property Oganization notes that "[t]he Games are as much a celebration of innovation and creativity as they are of humanity, fair play and sporting excellence."

Perhaps most amusing to me in the run-up to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games has been the coverage of the U.S. opening ceremony outfits, designed by Ralph Lauren.  Even for those of you who purport to know nothing about fashion design, you may recall that Ralph Lauren designs those shirts and shorts and sweaters with the little embroidered polo horse on the chest . . . .  But trust me, he's an iconic American designer.  Anyway, here is a critique of the American ensembles, ranking each item.  The jacket is heated (!).  But the large fringe suede gloves appear to be a particularly controversial fashion choice.  As one critic noted:

These outfits have come in for a lot of criticism, particularly because they require the athlete to wear ludicrously large gloves that look as though they were designed for grilling by some sadist who then wants the grillers to go up in flames because the fringe of their large gloves has caught on fire.

She goes on to say the following:

The gloves have also come in for criticism because they have a Southwestern, Native American–meets–Route 66 truck stop, tchotchke vibe to them. The Olympic rings and the American flag are beaded. Between the fringe and the beading, there have been some claims and concerns about appropriation. I hear those. However, I do think that, in the long view, we want the American Olympic team outfits to be referencing a broader set of cultural influences on American life.

Wow.  Who knew the business of deigning for the Olympic Games was so complex and fraught with peril?

In truth, the relationship between the U.S. Olympic Committee and Ralph Lauren is just one example of a designer collaboration seen frequently in fashion design in recent years.  Target, H&M, and many others have entered into successful collaborations with major designers.  See, e.g., herehere and here.  These collaborations involve contracts addressing the fusion of the applicable intellectual property rights, among other legal and business issues.  See, e.g., here and here.  This is undoubtedly an interesting aspect of fashion law.

But back to the Olympic outfits . . . .  Bustle is running a series of articles on the team uniforms and their designers.  Here is the first installment.  And if you want to know how much it will cost you to buy parts of the Team U.S.A. opening ceremony outfits, you can read about that here.  They're pricey; be prepared . . . .

February 9, 2018 in Intellectual Property, Joan Heminway, Licensing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

How 'Bout Them Lady Vols?

Quietly, just over two months ago, we got our Lady Vols back.  As you may recall, back in 2014, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville decided to consolidate its athletic branding behind the ubiquitous orange "Power T." The women's basketball team was exempted from the brand consolidation and retained the Lady Vol name and old-school logo in honor of our beloved departed coach, Pat Head Summitt. (See here.)

Many can be credited with the revival of the Lady Vols brand (and I do consider it to be an accomplishment), although perhaps these five heroic women are owed the largest debt of gratitude for the achievement.  I guess my earlier envisioned dreams of profiting from the abandonment of the trademarked Lady Vols logo will not soon be realized . . . .

There are lingering lessons in this affair for businesses and their management--and universities (as well as their athletic departments) are, among other things, businesses.  Knoxville's former Mayor weighed in with comments on the matter in a recent local news column, advising "you need to be sensitive to what the customer likes." He concludes (bracketed text added by me):

People will speculate for a long time on how UT let itself get caught up in this unfortunate situation for three years. It did not have to happen. It can be a valuable lesson, if once leaders realize a mistake has been made, postponing a resolution does not improve it. Better to make amends and move on.

Hopefully, DiPietro [the university's President] has learned from this that it is better to get ahead of a volatile issue than to be consumed by it. Currie [the university's new Director of Athletics] and Davenport [the campus's new Chancellor] solved it for him. They have won considerable good will for themselves and the university.

From Coca-Cola and its disastrous New Coke introduction (mentioned in the article) to Google Glass (which may have better applications, for the moment, than the general consumer market), businesses and their management have learned these lessons over and over.  Listen to the customer, and if you make a miscalculation, admit it and move on.

As law schools and law instructors continue to innovate to serve students, our universities (for those who are part of one), and the profession (among other constituencies), we may be able to learn a lesson or two from some of the broader experimentation in the business world in the introduction of new products and services.  Change for the sake of change or for the sake of branding simplicity, without an understanding of the relevant constituents, certainly is a risky proposition.  I hope that we can be thoughtful and consider all affected interests as we innovate.  And I also hope that when we fail in our change efforts (and some of us will fail) we can cut our losses and re-appraoch change with new knowledge and renewed energy to succeed. 

Getting back to those Lady Vols, our women's basketball team is now 2-0 with convincing wins over ETSU and James Madison.  The next game is Monday against Wichita State, followed by a Thanksgiving evening match against Marquette.  Go Lady Vols!

November 18, 2017 in Intellectual Property, Joan Heminway, Law School, Management, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

No Need to Veil Pierce an LLC When Direct Liability Is Available (and LLCs Are Still Not Corps)

A new Maryland case deals with claims against a limited liability company that the plaintiff claimed was "registered as a limited liability corporation ('LLC')." Farm Fresh Direct Direct By a Cut Above LLC v. Downey, 2017 WL 4865481, at *2 (D. Md., 2017).  The court repeats the mistake, but the complaint is the original source, as it incorrectly identifies the LLC as a "corporation" and not a company.  The court then explains some of the allegations as follows: 
Plaintiff alleges that Sinsky violated 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(A) and engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices, in violation of Maryland common law. ECF 1, ¶¶ 17-22, 23-26. At its core, plaintiff's contention is that “Sinsky is the resident agent and incorporator” of Farm Fresh Home (ECF 1, ¶¶ 12-13), and in that capacity she “filed” the articles of organization for Farm Fresh Home, creating a name for the “competing company” that is “intentionally confusing” because of its similarity to Farm Fresh Direct. ECF 1, ¶ 12.
. . . .
*4 Farm Fresh Home is a limited liability company. As a threshold matter, I must determine whether Sinsky is subject to suit in light of Farm Fresh Home's status as a limited liability company.
Id. at *3–4. 
 
That is not quite right. The complaint alleges that Sinsky, by helping to form the LLC, violated the Lanham Act and Maryland common law (the court repeats the complaint's "incorporator" language, but presumably this is meant to refer to the formation of the LLC).  The question, at least initially, should not be whether Sinksy is subject to suit as a member of the LLC.  The question, then, is whether there is a direct claim against Sinsky for creating the competing entity.
 
The court seems to understand this is at least part of the analysis because the opinion discusses veil piercing (in the corporate context, of course) as well as the concept of direct liability.  As to direct liability, the opinion correctly explained: “An LLC member is liable for torts he or she personally commits, inspires, or participates in because he or she personally committed a wrong, not ‘solely’ because he or she is a member of the LLC.” Id. at *5 (quoting Allen v. Dackman, 413 Md. 132, 158, 991 A.2d 1216, 1228 (2010)). The opinion further states that there can be direct liability under the Lanham Act and for unfair trade practices, even when an entity is involved.  This is (at least conceptually) correct.  Despite this, the opinion ultimately misses the mark: 
The question here is not whether plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Its allegations as to Sinsky border on thin. But, for purposes of the Motion, plaintiff adequately alleges sufficient facts and inferences that Sinsky participated in the creation of Farm Fresh Home for the purpose of using a confusingly similar name to compete with Farm Fresh Direct. See A Society Without a Name, 655 F.3d at 346. Therefore, plaintiff is not entitled to the protection of the corporate shield at this juncture.
Id. at *7 (emphasis added). No and no. First, LLCs do not have corporate shields. They have LLC or limited liability shields, but You Can’t Pierce the Corporate Veil of an LLC Because It Doesn't Have One!  Second, there is no need to consider veil piercing at this point. The court has found sufficient claims as to Sinsky's participation to support direct liability. The inquiry should end there. And even if there were value in discussing both direct liability and veil piercing (there is not), the court's own citation to Allen v. Dackman should indicate that this section is not solely related to entity-derived liability.  
 
I don't mean to be too hard on anyone here.  This is not personal -- it simply about identifying and trying to correct errors related to entity status. I know that not all courts or practicing attorneys spend the amount of time I do with entities and their nuances.  And this case involves a pro se party, which can make things even more challenging.
 
I just still maintain that this is something we can correct. Apparently, one blog post at a time. 

November 14, 2017 in Accounting, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Intellectual Property, Joshua P. Fershee, Litigation, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Rocky Top at 50

 RockyTopPride

A recent Knoxville New Sentinel article (as well as articles and other press coverage, including stories on local television outlets like this one) noted the golden anniversary of The University of Tennessee's unofficial* fight song (also a Tennessee state song), Rocky Top.  Any of you who have been to Neyland Stadium--or to Thompson-Boling Arena or any other venue at which the Vols are accompanied by the Pride of the Southland Marching Band or one of the pep bands--are familiar with the tune.  Many of our opponents just despise it.  It's catchy, and it's country.

And it has led to merch in which The University of Tennessee has an interest.  Rocky Top hats, t-shirts, etc. abound.  Lyrics from the song (especially "Home sweet home to me") adorn the same.  That little song has become a big (read: commercially successful) deal.

But it also has been involved in some recent intellectual property law controversies involving a town just North of us here in Knoxville--a town formerly known as Lake City, Tennessee and now known as (you guessed it) Rocky Top, Tennessee.  It will take me two posts to cover this without boring you all, but I will start with the article written by my colleague Brian Krumm and one of our alums, Liz Natal.  In Good Ole Rocky Top: Rocky Top Tennessee, Brian and Liz lay out the details of how our beloved song (which co-blogger Doug Moll says periodically rings in his head from a football game long ago . . .) became the name of a town despite a trademark suit over the affair.  The details are in the article.  For those interested in trademarks, the article lays out the controversy and offers some interesting observations.

But Brian and Liz's piece just tells the early part of the story.  There's more to say about the intellectual property ramifications of this name change.  Another of my colleagues, Gary Pulsinelli, is working on a piece along those lines now.  I will share it with you once he's got at least a draft posted somewhere.  But I have heard presentations on this work, and it's also quite interesting--even if Rocky Top is not your thing.  Stay tuned! 

RockTopTownSign

* The word "unofficial" was added to this post on September 28 in response to a reader's comment, reflected below.  The official fight song of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is "Down the Field," also known as "Here's to Old Tennessee."

September 25, 2017 in Intellectual Property, Joan Heminway, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Law & Wellness: Interview with Gabe Azar (Sr. Patent Counsel at Johnson & Johnson)

Gabriel (“Gabe”) Azar and I graduated one year apart, from the same law school. He has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech and started his legal career as an associate practicing patent law at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP. He moved from Finnegan to Paul Hastings and from there to an in-house position with FIS. Currently, he is Senior Patent Counsel at Johnson & Johnson. I’ve admired, mostly from a distance (he lives in Jacksonville, FL now), how Gabe has balanced family, work, and health. We recently reconnected on Strava, and it has been inspiring to see a dedicated husband/father/attorney taking his fitness seriously.   

 

The interview is below the page break.

Continue reading

September 8, 2017 in Business Associations, Haskell Murray, Intellectual Property, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Hrdy on "The Reemergence of State Anti-Patent Law"

My Akron Law colleague Camilla Alexandra Hrdy has posted "The Reemergence of State Anti-Patent Law" on SSRN.  You can download the paper here.  Here is the abstract:

The majority of states have now passed laws prohibiting bad faith assertions of patent infringement. The laws are heralded as a new tool to protect small businesses and consumers from harassment by so-called patent trolls. But state “anti-patent laws” are not a new phenomenon. In the late nineteenth century, many states passed regulations to prevent rampant fraud by patent peddlers who aggressively marketed fake or low value patents to unwitting farmers. However, courts initially held the laws were unconstitutional. Congress, courts reasoned, had power under Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 to “secure” patent rights. If states could tax patents or alter the terms on which patents were sold and enforced, this risked destroying a federal property right and nullifying an Article I power. In the early twentieth century, the U.S. Supreme Court finally held that states retained some authority to regulate, and to tax, patent transactions. But the Court made clear that states could never impose an “oppressive or unreasonable” burden on federal rights. The Federal Circuit has completely ignored this preemption law. But it has never been overruled and must be consulted today in assessing the constitutionality of states’ current efforts to combat patent trolls.

March 2, 2017 in Intellectual Property, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Patents to Non-Human Inventors?

The Constitution tells us that patents can be given to “inventors,” and the Patent Act states that protection is available to “[w]hoever invents or discovers” an invention.  These are not generally controversial propositions, but like so many legal regimes, technology is forcing these analog laws to deal with digital phenomena. The culprits here are artificial intelligence and software capable of inventing new technologies. Can patents be given to digital “inventors,” and if not, does any human have the right to patent such an invention?

Obvious comparisons can be drawn to whether non-humans can be “authors”—as required by the Constitution—for copyright purposes. For instance, can a digital composer of music be given copyright protection for its work? The academic consensus is that technology is not an author (for Constitutional purposes), but the agreement dissolves from there. Some have argued that programmers should be given ownership rights—a reasonable proposition—but this sentiment is far from universal.

With little guidance from copyright law, parties have looked elsewhere for ideas in the patent sphere.  It has been posited that—if a non-human cannot be an inventor—current patent laws require the first person to “discover” the value of the non-human invention to be the inventor. This may be correct, but one must consider if that policy creates maximum incentives to further the progress of technology. Perhaps an amendment to the Patent Act is appropriate.

There are several potential avenues to address this issue. Ownership could be allocated to the programmer, the company owning the hardware, or to no one at all. Granting ownership to any party incentivizes creation of more inventing software and artificial intelligence. This benefit, however, comes at the price of granting 20-year patent monopolies at a relatively small marginal cost to the patentee (after software is accounted for). Does this encouragement to create and use of inventing software/computers come at too high of a cost to society?

Denying any patent protection enriches the public domain by including all non-human inventions—a social positive. That policy, however, potentially discourages the creation of inventing machines (as it decreases their market value) and incentives fraud before the Patent Office.  Should a party identify a valuable invention created by a non-human, it might falsely claim that a human was the inventor to secure a patent. This would benefit dishonest firms at the expense of honest companies and society at large. 

Lastly, there is an interesting potential distinction to be drawn between inventing algorithms or software (e.g., genetic algorithms) versus artificial intelligence. Non-human corporations continue to obtain greater rights under the Constitution (see Citizens United). Might artificial intelligence (e.g., something that could pass the Turing Test?) be recognized as an inventor at some point, while a “mere” algorithm or software might not? The question is probably premature, and as presented, is likely not sufficiently nuanced.  However, the topic may eventually be raised.

At this time, no one has the answers to the above legal and policy questions, though I’m sure many commentators (myself included) will chime in.  I invite readers to voice their opinion in the comments.

February 10, 2017 in Intellectual Property | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Star Trek Fan Film Case, part 2 - Thoughts on the Fair Use Opinion

The Star Trek copyright lawsuit I previously wrote about settled last Friday.  This was not a surprise. Defendant Axanar’s best bet was arguing that its fan film made fair use of the Star Trek works. The court, however, foreclosed that defense a few weeks ago.  This post addresses a few points (out of many) from the opinion ruling against Axanar’s assertion of fair use.  I’m not certain that the judge got the multi-factor analysis incorrect, but I do worry about how some aspects of the opinion will be applied in the future. 

When assessing fair use, courts must review whether the work is commercial or not.  For-profit use weighs against the defense.  Axanar argued that its film was non-commercial because it would be freely downloadable.  The court rebuffed, positing that “indirect commercial benefit” is sufficient to render a use commercial. While there is precedent supporting this proposition, the opinion expanded the idea of indirect commercial benefit a step too far. 

The court held that defendants’ intent to create “other job opportunities” through the Axanar project rendered it commercial and thus, disfavored fair use.  The problem is that almost any author, film producer, etc. hopes that their projects will be successful and create future job prospects.  Accordingly, this consideration will disfavor fair use in almost all situations under the Axanar opinion. 

To be fair, there was evidence that defendants attempted to leverage their project into new business opportunities, and that probably supports the “commercial” determination. This fact, however, was not elaborated on in the opinion, and that nuance is unlikely to be referenced in future citations to the case.   

My second concern with the fair use analysis pertains to the court’s assessment of the “Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used.” Under this factor, the more of the copyrighted work that is used (in both volume and importance), the less likely the defense is applicable. The court found that Axanar’s use of many details from the Star Trek universe (e.g., Vulcans, phasers, etc.) disfavored fair use.  There was no discussion of whether Axanar used primary plots or characters from Star Trek.

This precedent again casts broad shadows. Under the opinion, stories that take place in a preexisting fictional world (e.g., fan works) will almost always be disfavored as a fair use (regardless of how much of the actual plot is used).  Works of that type commonly use small details to stay consistent with the original universe, and thus, under the Axanar opinion, will usually be disfavored as a fair use.  I doubt the court intended the “amount used” consideration to disfavor fair use for almost all works of this nature (including most fan productions).  Again, while the court’s final conclusion may be correct, the precedent it established seems to be unnecessarily broad.

January 27, 2017 in Intellectual Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Thoughts on the Star Trek Fan Film Copyright Lawsuit

A copyright lawsuit against Star Trek fan film creator Axanar Productions is going to trial this month. CBS and Paramount alleged infringement after Axanar raised over $1 million to produce a freely downloadable Star Trek movie and a previously released teaser. The case raises a host of interesting issues, which I’ll look at over a couple of posts.

I found this case notable for how it fits into the expansion of copyright protections and the influence of repeat litigants. Copyright has evolved to protect increasingly granular elements of a story (i.e., protecting discrete things in a story, not the entire work). It was once questionable if an isolated character could be protected, but now copyright extends to means of transportation (Batmobile), monsters (Godzilla), and implements of mass murder (Freddy Krueger’s glove). 

This is good for copyright holders. It is easier to prove infringement a copyrighted light saber than it is to show that someone copied the story of a farm boy who learned a mystical religion, got a light saber, found out his dad was Darth Vader, and so on. The Star Trek suit falls into the trend of increasingly granularity; CBS and Paramount assert protection of individual phrases (“beaming up”), made-up languages (Klingon), and fictional styles of architecture.

These allegations are not surprising, but they are interesting as part of a continuing trend of large-scale copyright holders attempting to protect small elements of a story. These parties will be repeat litigants, and they aim to craft beneficial precedent. It behooves them to allege granular protection, see if any assertions catch the court’s favor, and proceed with likely winners. Losing allegations are dropped or the case settled. Content owners thus secure caselaw supporting granular (easily infringed) copyright, without creating adverse precedent. This is smart business, but limits authors and filmmakers who must avoid these copyrights.

I’m also curious about the message sent by this case. Most fan fiction/films are either tacitly accepted by copyright holders or endorsed as advertising. This lawsuit will certainly chill the production of fan fiction and films—especially high-end works. Was Paramount so concerned about competition from fans that it was willing to lose the goodwill that Axanar could have generated? A million dollar fan film might have "competed" with Star Trek movies to some extent, but it almost certainly would have created significant buzz among fans. I wonder if other franchise-owners would have made the same decision. At this point, I doubt they’ll have to; I wouldn’t expect any fan to be willing to venture into “high-end” fan works anytime soon for fear of a lawsuit. 

January 20, 2017 in Intellectual Property | Permalink | Comments (0)