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Monday, 4 April 2011

Teaching IP to undergraduates: a postgraduate asks ...

How best can the teaching of intellectual property law to undergraduates be justified? Carlos Conde asks just this question. He writes:

"I am a PhD student in Law at the University of Sheffield. My funding comes from a university in Colombia which is now conducting a review of its LLB programme. The person who is in charge of the department of IP in the university is asking me to give some good reasons for including IP in the LLB programme for undergraduates. Could I ask for some good reasons from your readers -- and from you?"
This member of the IPKat team has been through this process himself, arguing for the introduction of IP in the syllabus at Trinity College, Dublin (1979-80) and Durham (1983-4).  In the case of Dublin, the case in favour of IP was based on a modernisation of the old Personal Property syllabus (the textbook was Crossley Vaines on Personal Property, which I think was last updated in 1973). I was able to argue that patents, copyrights and trade marks were more likely to be relevant to legal practice in the late 20th century than trespass to chattels, detinue, replevin, various types of liens and the Pawnbrokers Act.  In Durham there was a sudden demand for half-courses, and when IP was offered there was no need to state any case in favour of it at all.

But now, in the context of 21st century Colombia, what arguments might best be deployed both for and indeed against the teaching of IP to undergraduates?  Readers' suggestions are keenly welcomed.

The Undergraduate here and here
The Graduate here

16 comments:

Gentoo said...

For better or for worse, IP is becoming an increasing feature of the commercial environment; including its interaction with competition law.

I would think that anyone planning a legal or paralegal career in commercial law would be disadvantaged without at least "IP law 101". Of course a forward thinking university would include something about copyleft and creative commons too.

Andrew Robinson said...

I'm tempted to say it is a fast-moving field, that involves conflicts with free speech, political intruigue, big money lobbyists, international jurisdiction issues and non- obvious concepts like abundance... but actually I'd go with the unrivalled opportunity to make students giggle by using Schwing v. Putzmeister" (aka 'the Bastardring case') as an example.

Andreas Rahmatian said...

Not so sure whether this does answer all (or any) questions, but I wrote something in this area once:

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a790658677

That journal, although now defunct, but still available on databases, may contain some useful material in other articles, too.

Mark Anderson said...

I hope this isn't too sycophantic, but a very good argument from my perspective as a former undergraduate law student (1979 - 82) is that I enjoyed and was inspired by the IP course that I attended at Durham University in about 1981, and it helped to persuade me to become an IP lawyer. At the time, the course was lightly disguised as a commercial law course. It was run by a Dr J Phillips...

Ruth Soetendorp said...

I cannot comment on 21st century Colombia, but if Colombian Law faculties are like UK Law faculties, there should be a welcome place for IP law in their LLB programmes.

UK law faculties like faculties in other disciplines are expected to offer programmes that provide students the opportunity to engage in self managed learning, understand the risks and benefits of globalisation, be prepared to engage interdisciplinary academic work, understand and apply ethics in their academic and future careers.
A study of intellectual property law exposes students to the rigour and discipline of application and analysis that they might expect to encounter in studying any 'black letter law' topic. But in addition, they are studying law as a subject that touches them at a personal level, in a context that is difficult to ignore.

IP Law is unique in giving undergraduates the opportunity to study law in a familiar context - trade marks and copyrights are part of any students' cultural life; the ethics of patenting pharmaceuticals (for example) is not so remote from them, and they are familiar e.g. with the big money to be made from television formats. Commercial life and IP law are symbiotic - so the law graduate who has IP literacy has more to offer commercial clients.

IP law is one area of legal study that is clearly relevant to non-law undergraduates (particularly those involved in creative, innovative, inventive or technological disciplines) who are creators of IP - so there are oppoprtunities within a university for innovative interdisciplinary learning activities between IP law and other students.

Anonymous said...

I think that the best argument in favour is that an increasing part of the value of companies, and in particular large corporations, is represented by intangibles, especially IP.
Consequently, IP is growing ever more important in the relations between corporations, as well as between corporations and social society as well as governments. The ramifications of IP in other fields of law, such as competition law, but also tax law and civil rights, are thus far from negligible.
For instance, in a country like Colombia, with a large agricultural sector, breeders' rights and biotechnology patents can have a large economical and social impact.

Carlos A. Conde said...

Thank you for all your emails, but I like to extend a bit further the question. Having said how important is IP in undergraduates programme, what subject or areas will you include in the syllabus of the IP module? Would it be different from programme in countries like UK, US or other EU members?

Anonymous said...

http://tinyurl.com/3p9xqy2

Lorenzo Litta said...

Carlos,
I don't know how it works in the UK
In Italy I would recommend to study the interaction between IP and competition law, as Gentoo said already.
I would recommend to learn something about Bio-tecnologies and Bio-tec patents or other technical issues but the most important suggestion is, in my opinion, to do what it is more interesting for you and according to your interests.

Ben Challis said...

The students I teach are not law students, they are business studies students looking to work in the cultural sector - arts, music, dance, visual arts, film, television, theatre, museums, etc, but they all study IP. It is obligatory in their final year to study two law modules, not least because copyright still underpins so much of the commercial landscape in the sectors which they aim to work in.

Copyright forms the basis of the first module but I also teach trade marks, a very introductory section on patents, design rights, the law of confidence and defamation (in brief) over one semester.

Because this is a business focussed course we combine this 'IP' module with a second module in the second semester that covers basic contract law, a practical examination of the use of contracts in the entertainment sector and finally the role of competition law.

I teach this in the UK where the cultural sector is estimated to be 7% of our economy - and growing faster than other sectors. In fact the UK employs some 670,000 people in the cultural sector (2009/2010 figures) and has the largest cultual economy in the World relative to GDP. When you look at the other things we are good at here in the UK - fashion, pharmaceuticals, music, design, film, television, computer, electronics - why on earth WOULDN'T you teach IP - not just to law undergraduates but to many other students as well!

I don't know how Columbia's economy is constituted, but the last writer also made a very valid comment about patents etc. Economics alone provides a very coherent argument for including IP. I also teach on a Masters course which is primarily Business Administration, and again IP forms a key part of the MA syllabus.

Geoffrey Sturgess said...

I would have thought that the question should be posed as “What good reasons are there/might there be for not teaching IP?” as IP is now relevant to the vast majority of commercial dealings and many business to consumer interactions.
If fact I have long believed that the rudiments of IP should be taught to those not studying law as it is almost bound to impinge on them in their careers whether in business or academia.
On one occasion I offered to provide an IP basics course for the academic staff of a provincial university (for whom I already provided that service for their Design and Entrepreneurship students). The offer was declined on the grounds that institution’s contracts with the academics might be challenged if the academics knew too much about IP.

Margaret Llewelyn said...

In addition to your wise words on the relevance of IP, I’d suggest that it is one of the few areas of law (are there any others?) that transcends disciplines – it covers art, product design, science, philosophy, business (in all guises from marketing through to competition), therefore allowing a student to think about more than just ‘the law’ but also about its application, appropriateness, trans-boundary significance and societal value. In this noting this diversity I’d suggest that Carlos looks to his own home IP team for evidence of this spread of interest, those writing about IP at Sheffield include a philosopher who has moved across to law, a business man who has moved across to law, a medic who has moved across to law (his own supervisor indeed) – all because of IP – not to mention a leading EU lawyer and a lawyer specialising in traditional knowledge (primarily that of dance). To me the subject goes to the very heart of what law is and should be about (see the debate on patenting biotech – but I would say that wouldn’t I!).

Rebecca Tilbury said...

One of the biggest reasons for teaching IP to undergraduates is that it is one of the few areas of law that is expanding and also largely recession proof, given that people will always need brands and protect those brands and innovation will always create money/obtain investment if it works. It is also important that people are introduced to the idea of becoming a patent or trade mark attorney at an early stage, so not just that a solicitor is the only option. IP can be jazzed up for undergraduates with examples from Apple and the litigation which people get into. I did not get taught IP at undergraduate level but was rather taught more obscure topics like medical law which although interesting does not play out in the modern world so much. The protection of IP is far more important in the modern world than outdated laws and if undergraduates wish to get into IP having done a module at university may be beneficial. I cannot see any reason why you would not teach it, given that branding, innovation, design etc is far more at the cutting edge of today’s culture than taking an additional module about the general legal system.

Ruth Soetendorp said...

I cannot comment on 21st century Colombia, but if Colombian Law faculties are like UK Law faculties, there should be a welcome place for IP law in their LLB programmes.

UK law faculties like faculties in other disciplines are expected to offer programmes that provide students the opportunity to engage in self managed learning, understand the risks and benefits of globalisation, be prepared to engage interdisciplinary academic work, understand and apply ethics in their academic and future careers.
A study of intellectual property law exposes students to the rigour and discipline of application and analysis that they might expect to encounter in studying any 'black letter law' topic. But in addition, they are studying law as a subject that touches them at a personal level, in a context that is difficult to ignore.

IP Law is unique in giving undergraduates the opportunity to study law in a familiar context - trade marks and copyrights are part of any students' cultural life; the ethics of patenting pharmaceuticals (for example) is not so remote from them, and they are familiar e.g. with the big money to be made from television formats. Commercial life and IP law are symbiotic - so the law graduate who has IP literacy has more to offer commercial clients.

IP law is one area of legal study that is clearly relevant to non-law undergraduates (particularly those involved in creative, innovative, inventive or technological disciplines) who are creators of IP - so there are oppoprtunities within a university for innovative interdisciplinary learning activities between IP law and other students.

Carlos A. Conde said...

Thanks again for all your comments, I think next time I might ask if there is NO a good reason to include IP in undergraduates syllabus. However, the perception and importance of IP in developing countries such as Colombia is different from developed economies. In the case of Colombia, there is no public engagement to protect IP rights, but there is a sense that make “copies” does not hurt anyone, especially if the right holder is in a wealthy country. Nevertheless, as most of you mentioned the global context demands to developing countries to adapt to IP, although there is no a clear idea of what IP is. I think that is why is so important that universities in countries like Colombia start preparing students in IP. Better late than never.
Thanks to the IPKat and everyone else for your help

Michael Lin said...

Definitely agree with most of the postings above.

In my experience, the key to effective teaching is to make the subject relevant to the individual. Although they may not know/think about it, IP impacts every undergraduate's life. You simply need to point this out to them. At a minimum, what they buy, wear, eat, etc. is affected by their brand-perception (Trademarks) and even what school they go to has its own reputation - i.e., their school's own branding.

Assuming that they want to get a job after graduation, the IP impact in the business world is also huge - a 2002 study showed that 80% of the value of Fortune 500 companies is in their intangibles - brands, processes, HR systems, patents, trade secrets, etc. Even for manufacturing companies, the percentage is often over 2/3. And then look at companies like Google - what physical assets do they actually own? a couple thousand servers and some buildings. By far, most of their assets are in their intangibles.

Using examples of what they use, buy, do every day and pointing out how IP is embedded into that will focus students' attention to IP. When presenting about IP to law and business students in China, I often use Apple, Google, Nike, etc. as examples, because they are well-known by students everywhere. Certainly there must be local brands that you can also use as examples. But make it brands and products that are relevant to the students.

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