The Intellectual Property Issue

A Hot Property

IP curriculum evolves with student interest and new technologies


Renny Hwang '05 and Ory Okolloh '05 worked on a domain name policy
for the island of Palau through a clinical at the Berkman Center.

Walk by Professor Lloyd Weinreb's copyright lecture, and you might hear the songs of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, former Beatle George Harrison or even pop singer Michael Bolton blaring from the classroom.

No, they aren't favorite tunes from Weinreb's record collection; he much prefers classical composers or Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes.

But each of these musicians was involved in a prominent copyright infringement suit, and Weinreb plays their songs as he discusses their cases. On another day, Weinreb might display the insignia of the National Football League's Baltimore Ravens, the subject of another copyright dispute.

Such multimedia presentations were certainly not the norm when Weinreb '62 took Copyright with Benjamin Kaplan at Harvard Law 42 years ago. But much has changed in the intervening decades in how students learn about intellectual property here.

Whereas Kaplan's two-hours-per-week copyright law class was the only intellectual property course offering then, students today can fill whole semesters with the school's nine IP-related offerings, including recent interdisciplinary additions such as cyberlaw and biotechnology law. Just this fall, the school received a $3 million gift to establish its first professorship in patent law.

"The demand for intellectual property has been immense," says Weinreb. "The whole world is interested in intellectual property right now."

Outside of class, students with an interest in IP can do research or enroll in a clinical at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Or they might write articles for the student-run Harvard Journal of Law & Technology or help organize conferences for the Harvard Committee on Sports & Entertainment Law.

Though the Internet bubble burst years ago, those offerings keep attracting more students. One explanation: Harvard Law's current student body is stacked with Internet startup survivors who brought their interest in technology with them. But student interest in IP extends far beyond those Silicon Valley expatriates. To see why the same issues are relevant to the average HLS student, look no further than Weinreb's copyright class this past spring that met three times each week in Pound Hall.

The first sound a visitor hears is the constant tapping of keys--nearly all of the students in the room are typing their notes on a laptop. And, thanks to schoolwide wireless Internet access installed this academic year at the direction of Dean Elena Kagan '86, the World Wide Web is just a click away at every seat. That innovation is of little interest to Weinreb, a self-described "semi-Luddite," who didn't even have a computer in his office until 2001. Even today, he says, he doesn't know how to do much besides e-mail and hasn't ever looked at file-swapping programs like Napster.

Still, in the 16 years since he started teaching copyright, Weinreb's approach has evolved along with new technologies. In today's lecture, he is wrapping up the copyright portion of his class with a lecture on the fair-use doctrine before starting a half-semester overview of patent law and trademarks.

At the same time, Professor William Fisher III '82, co-director of the Berkman Center, is leading a class discussion in his patent law course while standing before a PowerPoint presentation. Yet the class discussion topic is considerably less high-tech: a hypothetical salt-injected fishing lure designed to catch bass.

He presses one student to discuss whether the inventor should get a patent and what the appropriate field of art should be. During his second IP class of the day, later that night, Fisher takes a back seat to his students in a seminar on current trends in cyberlaw.

Eating takeout Thai food around a table in the attic of Austin Hall, Fisher and his 15 students talk with visiting UCLA law school Professor Jerry Kang '93 about who should own rights to private information on the Web. Kang asks them to consider, if personal data like online buying habits is considered property, whether it's best controlled by individuals, by companies or in some form of mutual control.

1 of 2 | next