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Professor argues standards for cutting-edge science need to consider intellectual property

Monday, January 12, 2015

LAWRENCE — The development of a new “open language,” or standard means for communicating data and results between researchers, to guide collaboration in the cutting-edge science of synthetic biology shows valuable potential. But it must take intellectual property issues into account at the outset to avoid legal problems that can be destructive to the process of standards setting, a University of Kansas law professor argues.

Andrew Torrance, also a visiting scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, co-authored a commentary in the leading journal Nature Biotechnology, arguing that if intellectual property concerns are not included in the development of a Synthetic Biology Open Language, or “SBOL,” scientific progress could be thwarted and wasteful legal battles ensue. The commentary was written as a response to an SBOL proposal written by Galdzicki et al., previously published in Nature Biotechnology. Torrance co-authored the commentary with professors Jorge L. Contreras of the University of Utah and Arti K. Rai of Duke University. All three specialize in law, biology, intellectual property and technical standards setting.

The Synthetic Biology Open Language is a set of technical standards intended to serve as a common language to allow diverse research groups to collaborate in the field of synthetic biology without need for technical translation. The language would be part of standards “accelerating scientific progress in synthetic biology and for the eventual commercialization of resulting technologies,” Torrance and co-authors wrote. However, patent and other intellectual property issues highly relevant to the adoption of SBOL were not mentioned and should be considered.

“Standardization and the standards setting process has greatly benefited other fields of scientific endeavor, such as engineering and computer science, and is similarly important to synthetic biology,” Torrance said. “Just as standard worldwide language for air traffic control has enhanced both efficiency and safety, thus spurring air travel, standard language for information exchange should lead progress in synthetic biology to be faster and more meaningful. However, the biological research landscape is replete with patent rights, so standard setting must grapple about intellectual property at the outset.”

Torrance and colleagues recommend including patent holders and legal experts in ongoing negotiations to develop standards such as the Synthetic Biology Open Language. Failing to do so could result in patent holders filing lawsuits, either immediately or once the standard has been adopted, thereby slowing, frustrating or thwarting scientific progress. Such dangers could also drive up the cost of innovation. Failing to consider legal issues has “bedeviled standard developers over the past two decades in industries ranging from wireless networks telecommunications to computer networking to semiconductor memory,” the authors wrote.

Designing standards without considering legal implications would be like designing a top-of-the-line automobile without ensuring there will be a road system on which to drive it, Torrance said. Not only would the vehicle be unable to show off its power and speed, it would almost certainly hit damaging potholes before it got anywhere.

One of the guiding philosophies in the field of synthetic biology is to be open and to share progress with all who are interested. The authors salute and support the “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” ethos this reflects, but they urge those trying to set technical standards not to overlook intellectual property issues with the potential to derail progress in service of that ideal.

“In general, I think the synthetic biology community has shown impressive awareness of potential legal hazards,” Torrance said. “Our letter was a way of reminding the synthetic biology community that issues of law, especially patents, are of vital importance and impossible to ignore. We urge such issues to be considered as an integral part of the standards-setting process so that technical standards are free from legal impediments from their initial adoption. Synthetic biology promises to be one of the great beneficial technologies, generating powerful medicines, more efficient and cleaner industrial processes, and perhaps even self-repairing consumer goods. We want to help ensure that legal impediments to achieving such worthy goals are avoided.”

Professor to argue before Supreme Court on states' rights

Monday, January 12, 2015

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas law professor will make his second appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court this term, arguing on behalf of Kansas and more than 20 other states in a case focused on natural gas, alleged price fixing and authority between state and federal governments.

Stephen McAllister, E.S. & Tom W. Hampton Distinguished Professor of Law, will argue on behalf of the plaintiffs in ONEOK Inc. v. Learjet Inc. at 9 a.m. CST today, Jan. 12, at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. He also argued before the court in October on behalf of Kansas in a case regarding water rights between the state and Nebraska. A ruling in that case is expected soon.

At issue in today's case is natural gas and setting prices for the commodity. The federal government controls the wholesale part of the market, while states can regulate commercial sales, McAllister said. The states are arguing their consumer protection laws prevent federal laws on the transportation and sale of natural gas from setting prices artificially high, or “price fixing.”

“It is an interesting collection of entities represented in the suit,” McAllister said. “There are hospitals, school districts and other private entities such as Learjet. They all have a common interest here and were required to pay way more than they should have for natural gas.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked McAllister, who is also solicitor general for Kansas, to write the amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs. McAllister, who regularly offers legal assistance to the state, will make his seventh total appearance before the Supreme Court. He will dispute the defendants’ and federal government’s position that state antitrust laws are pre-empted by the federal Natural Gas Act. The defendants argue the pre-emption extends to the retail market.

Kansas-based entities Learjet Inc. and Topeka Unified School District No. 501 are among the plaintiffs who claim the defendants illegally drove up the price of natural gas. Similar cases from across the country were consolidated into a multidistrict case in Nevada, and the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the plaintiffs to proceed with their claims.

McAllister said he was drawn to the case not only for the chance to serve the state and to appear before the highest court in the land but also for the chance to relate the experience to his students. He teaches classes and conducts research in federal and state constitutional law, civil rights actions and tort law.

“It’s a thrill for me both personally and professionally,” he said. “I think it speaks well for Kansas and the voice of Kansas when cases such as this show up at the Supreme Court. Plus, it always gives me something I can bring back to the students and my scholarship.”

Law school honors top graduates for scholarship, leadership, service

Thursday, May 23, 2013

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas School of Law honored more than 170 graduates at a hooding ceremony Saturday, May 18. During the ceremony, eight students received awards for distinguishing themselves in scholarship, leadership and service to the law school and the community.

The recipients:

  • Michael Andrusak, Salina, Class of 1949 Leadership Award
  • Ebonie Davis, Kansas City, Kan., Janean Meigs Memorial Award
  • Ashley Dillon, Orinda, Calif., Faculty Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement
  • Joy Isaacs, Topeka, Walter Hiersteiner Outstanding Service Award
  • Eric Sader, Salina, Robert F. Bennett Award
  • Joe Schremmer, Derby, Samuel Mellinger Scholarship, Leadership and Service Award
  • Isabel Segarra, Austin, Texas, Justice Lloyd Kagey Leadership Award
  • Henry Thomas, Overland Park, Class of 1949 Leadership Award

The award winners were part of a class composed of 174 recipients of the Juris Doctor, seven Doctor of Juridical Science graduates and two Master of Laws in Elder Law graduates.

Also honored during the ceremony was Uma Outka, associate professor of law, who received the 2013 Moreau Award. The award is given annually to the faculty member who, in the eyes of law students, has been particularly helpful in advising.

Funds for the awards are managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

Student award recipients are listed below by hometown.

JOHNSON COUNTY
From Overland Park

Henry ThomasHenry Thomas was one of two recipients of the Class of 1949 Leadership Award, given to the student who has contributed most significantly to the overall experience of students in Green Hall. Thomas raised hundreds of dollars and gathered hundreds of books for children at surrounding hospitals and collaborated to create a successful Diversity Banquet during his term as president of the Asian Law Students Association. He spent a year serving indigent clients in Douglas County as a participant in the Legal Aid Clinic and three years as a Student Ambassador, advising and educating prospective law students. During the 2012-13 academic year, Thomas served as editor-in-chief of the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy. Thomas is the son of Zach and Mary Thomas and a graduate of Rockhurst High School and Marquette University.

SALINE COUNTY
From Salina
Michael AndrusakMichael Andrusak was one of two recipients of the Class of 1949 Leadership Award, given to the student who has contributed most significantly to the overall experience of students in Green Hall. Andrusak served two years as president of the Student Bar Association, reorganizing its structure to encourage continuity of its leadership. He spearheaded fundraising events and spoke at new student orientation, welcoming students and acclimating them to law school. He attended Board of Governors and other similar meetings, ensuring that students enjoyed a voice in law school governance.  And, of course, he organized events, such as football tailgates, that allowed students to socialize and build relationships to last well beyond law school. Andrusak is the son of Janet Andrusak, was home-schooled through high school, and graduated from Pepperdine University.

Eric SaderEric Sader received the Robert F. Bennett Award, recognizing a graduate whose undergraduate degree is from a Kansas university or college and who has demonstrated leadership qualities through public service. Sader graduated with a joint degree in law and social work. For two years, he served as a resident assistant in the law school’s Journey to J.D. program.  He is a student representative on the board of directors for Ecumenical Campus Ministries at KU and, in 2011, was named one of KU’s Men of Merit in recognition of his role modeling a positive definition of masculinity through action and leadership. Sader has served as chief justice of the university’s Student Court of Appeals and an audio-reader for the visually impaired. He was recently selected as the new executive director of Jana’s Campaign, an organization dedicated to reducing gender and relationship violence. Sader is the son of Dale Sader and Mary Cook and a graduate of Salina High School South and McPherson College.

SEDGWICK COUNTY
From Derby
Joe SchremmerJoe Schremmer received the Samuel Mellinger Scholarship, Leadership and Service Award, given to the graduate who has most distinguished himself or herself in the combined areas of scholarship, leadership and service. Schremmer graduated with a joint degree in law and business, and his grades were among the best in his law school class. He served two years as a Lawyering Skills teaching assistant and two years in the Volunteer Tax Assistance Program, providing tax preparation assistance for low-income Kansans. His scholarly note, “Avoidable Fraccident: An Argument Against Strict Liability for Hydraulic Fracturing,” was selected for publication in the Kansas Law Review before he became the publication’s editor-in-chief. Schremmer is the son of Richard and Janice Schremmer and a graduate of Derby High School and KU. 

SHAWNEE COUNTY
From Topeka
Joy IsaacsJoy Isaacs received the Walter Hiersteiner Outstanding Service Award, given to the graduate whose service to his or her fellow students demonstrates the greatest promise for contribution to the legal profession and society. As a Shook, Hardy & Bacon Scholar, Isaacs mentored members of the first-year class to help improve their academic performance. She founded the law school’s 3-to-1 mentorship program, which matches successful upper-level students with entering first-year students. Isaacs served on the Kansas Law Review and still found time to coach volleyball at The Barstow Middle School. Isaacs is the daughter of Stan Noakes and Linda Noakes and a graduate of Washburn Rural High School and KU. 

WYANDOTTE COUNTY
From Kansas City, Kan.
Ebonie DavisEbonie Davis received the Janean Meigs Memorial Award, given to the student who has demonstrated a caring spirit in service to the students of the law school or the community at large. Davis served two years as a teaching assistant in the Journey to J.D. program designed to mentor and encourage diverse young people to consider law school and pursue legal opportunities in the region. She also served as president of the Black Law Students Association. In that role, she spearheaded BLSA’s annual Thanksgiving food drive and organized Thurgood Marshall Law Day, which annually hosts dozens of local high school students. She also serves as a mentor for the MODELS Mentoring Program, a community organization for teenage girls ages 12-17. And she has made these contributions to school and community while also caring for her own family, which includes two sons, ages 3 and 6. Davis is the daughter of Barbara White and a graduate of Wyandotte High School and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

CALIFORNIA
From Orinda
Ashley DillonAshley Dillon received the Faculty Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement, which goes to the graduating student selected by the faculty as having made the most significant contribution toward overall legal scholarship. Dillon’s scholarly note about the Kansas Uniform Trade Secrets Act was published in Volume 60 of the Kansas Law Review. She also served as executive note and comment editor on the Law Review and a chief justice of the Moot Court Council. Dillon spent two years as a Lawyering Skills teaching assistant, mentoring lawyering students in the first-year. She has accomplished all of this while maintaining an outstanding grade point average throughout all three years of her studies. Dillon is the daughter of Kent and Lynn Dillon and a graduate of Miramonte High School and the University of Missouri.

TEXAS
From Austin
Isabel SegarraIsabel Segarra received the Justice Lloyd Kagey Leadership Award, given to the graduate who has most distinguished him or herself through leadership in the law school. A passionate environmental advocate, Segarra reinvigorated KU’s Environmental Law Society, serving as president during the 2011-12 academic year.  As president, she brought various environmental law attorneys, including representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, to Green Hall for career panels and other educational functions; she lobbied the administration to stop purchasing Styrofoam products; and she encouraged faculty, staff and student participation in the Lights Out Energy Competition among different units on campus. This year, Segarra moderated a panel discussion on the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples during KU’s annual Tribal Law and Government Conference. She has written for the Journal of the Kansas Bar Association and was a member of the Jessup International Moot Court team that qualified for the international finals. Segarra is the daughter of Dolores Treviño and a graduate of Liberal Arts and Science Academy and Texas A&M University.

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