Thanks to Gordon Smith for inviting me to guest blog—and kudos to Gordon for inviting Michael Burstein, who penned several insightful guest blogs here a few weeks ago—to generate some buzz about the intersection of IP and business law. In my posts over the next two weeks, I’ll follow on Michael’s outstanding foray into the overlap—and as I’ll describe, the “gap”—between IP and business law.
As Michael explained, IP and business law often intersects in three key areas: (1) Law & Entrepreneurship; (2) Markets for Technology; and (3) Innovation and Corporate Performance. Each of these areas has been growing at tremendous rates both in terms of academic study and real-world deals.
As an IP law professor and former founder of a .com-era software company, it’s greatly refreshing to see this newfound interest in IP & business law in the legal academy and practice. Yet, both domains still often suffer from what I term the IP transaction “gap”—namely, the lack of a deep understanding on the part of academics and lawyers of both the “IP of Business” and the “Business of IP.”
In simple terms, business lawyers often fail to appreciate the important details of IP and IP lawyers often fail to understand the business of their clients. As a client, my difficulties stemmed in finding business-savvy lawyers who had a sufficient grasp of IP—particularly the business aspects of IP—to ink the kinds of nuanced licensing, assignment, and acquisition agreements that would suitably account for the structure and risks unique to IP deals. The same sorts of “gaps” between IP and business law pervade law review articles that attempt to tackle this thorny intersection.
Of course, there are notable exceptions among scholars and practitioners alike. For instance—in addition to Michael Burstein—Ashish Arora, Stuart Graham, Richard Gruner, Bronwyn Hall, Jay Kesan, Josh Lerner, and David Teece represent an abbreviated list of some of the scholars with deep knowledge in both fields. Similarly, there are well-known (and lesser-known) attorneys with the same sort of cross-disciplinary aptitude. How do scholars—and practitioners and students—acquire this kind of knowledge? I have a few suggestions.
First, law schools should offer more cross-over courses in IP and business law. For example, at the University of San Diego School of Law, David McGowan and I have focused on expanding our cross-disciplinary IP offerings, which now include IP & Business, IP Strategies, Technology Transfer, and a Technology Entrepreneurship Law Clinic. Based on a survey of IP courses performed by William Mitchell Law School, fewer than 20 law schools offer any IP transactional courses other than IP licensing. Relatedly, law schools should provide certificates or concentrations in IP Transactional Law, as well as more opportunities for joint MBA/JD programs, with a special emphasis on technology-focused business and law.
Second, legal academics writing in IP & business should more frequently read and cite literature from outside the law review canon. In my view, often the best law review articles in IP draw upon scholarly works from business, economics, management, marketing, and related journals. One excellent way to quickly learn about the latest thinking in these fields is to attend conferences in these disciplines, such as the Academy of Management or American Economic Association annual meetings.
In this vein, academics and practitioners alike should cease the frequent practice of pigeon-holing certain issues as “legal” and others as “business,” relegating the latter to the expertise of non-lawyers. At my software company, we eventually fired every lawyer who made such hidebound distinctions. In their place, we hired transactional lawyers who understood our business well—not only our goals in a specific deal, but also overall—and who thus could provide integrated business and legal advice. In order to have this deep level of knowledge, transactional lawyers—especially those who practice in the tech space—need to immerse themselves in the business of their clients. In many situations, this might mean self-educating by reading a client’s business plan and fundraising slides, as well as general business magazines, books, blogs, and journals.
Last, and perhaps most importantly, we in legal academia—in addition to training students to “think like lawyers”—should give today’s transactional law students a head-start on “thinking like businesspeople.” By doing so we can help ensure clients receive the kinds of lawyering they increasingly demand (and need).
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