BY BRENT BYARS
Doctors, lawyers, policy-makers, students, and academics gathered last Friday in Pound Hall to discuss the scope of patents and patent reform and the government’s role in funding stem-cell research. The event was the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology’s annual symposium, held this year in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Journal.
What if before providing legal advice to a client, you first had to determine whether someone else holds a patent on the “legal method” you were about to employ? Symposium attendees learned that this is already a reality in tax law practice. The day’s first panel sparked debate but yielded no firm conclusions about the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s role in issuing patents covering business methods and legal methods. Panelists disagreed both on whether such patents are or should be legitimate, as well as whether a lawyer should be permitted to enforce such patents against other lawyers. The panel consisted of Professor Dennis Crouch of Boston University, Professor Dana Irwin of Drexel University, and Andrew Schwartz of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Professor Arti Rai, the Hieken Visiting Professor of Patents at Harvard during the Winter Term, served as the moderator.
Professor Crouch then delivered a lively, open-ended keynote speech addressing the need for patent reform. He argued that much of the public conversation currently surrounding patent reform is over-hyped and unrealistic. Professor Crouch instead suggested that patent examiners should be better trained and qualified, and that opposing parties be given a shot at challenging the scope of a patent pre-issuance.
Many of the afternoon panelists were unable to attend due to Friday’s bad weather, but the remaining panelists met in spirited debate of the federal government’s decision to significantly restrict funding for new stem-cell research. Professor Glen Gaulton, Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, argued that federal funding is an important source of research dollars and can ethically be used to support stem-cell research. Dr. Sam Crowe, an analyst with the President’s Council on Bioethics, disagreed, arguing that the administration’s policy was to allow but not support such research with government spending. The panel was moderated by Professor Dan Brock, a Professor of Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, who fit the panel’s debate into a larger history of controversies in bioethics and research goals.
The Journal holds its annual symposium on topics of interest to its membership and the legal community. For more information on the Symposium, visit http://jolt.law.harvard.edu, where the Journal will soon publish video proceedings of the Symposium.