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KU law school to host nation’s leading annual patent scholarship conference

Thursday, April 09, 2015
 
LAWRENCE — Infectious diseases kill more than 10 million people each year, most of them in the developing world. The high cost of life-saving drugs is one barrier to treatment. Should strong patent protection, which drives up pharmaceutical prices, keep people from getting the medicine they need to survive?

It’s one of many questions that scholars will explore during the fifth annual Patent Conference on April 10-11 at the University of Kansas School of Law. Patent scholars from nearly a dozen countries and four continents – in law, economics, management science and other disciplines – will share the latest research on patent law, policy and business. The program is free, and registration is not required.

Plenary speakers include Colleen Chien, Santa Clara law professor and former senior adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Eric von Hippel, economist and professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management; and A. Christal Sheppard, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office satellite branch in Detroit.

“One of the most exciting aspects of PatCon is the opportunity not only to share bleeding-edge patent research but also to hear the debates this research spurs among the leading patent experts who attend,” said Andrew Torrance, professor of law and co-founder of the conference. “For example, one of the hottest topics in patent law today involves so-called ‘patent trolls’ and how they either promote or harm innovation. In fact, many of the scholars at PatCon have signed one of two competing letters sent to Congress just two weeks ago raising serious concerns about trolls.”

Other topics will include the role that patents play in inequality, international patent issues, patent policy, how to value complicated property rights like patents, whether patents promote or crush innovation, and exploding interest in design patents.

“Another exciting phenomenon is the rise of ‘big patent data,’ which scholars are increasingly using to answer fundamental questions about the patent system and even to challenge long-accepted legal doctrines,” Torrance said. “Some of the leading ‘big patent data’ experts will be presenting their latest, often surprising, results at PatCon.”

The School of Law hosted the inaugural Patent Conference in April 2011. Affectionately known as PatCon, the conference has snowballed into the country’s leading annual patent scholarship conference. It rotates among the law schools of its founding professors: Torrance; David Olson, Boston College Law School; David Schwartz, Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law, and Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law.

The program is co-sponsored by the KU School of Law, Hovey Williams LLP and Lathrop & Gage LLP.

Preview the schedule and speakers.

Penn Law alum and ITC Commissioner gives keynote at PIPG symposium on design patents

"On March 19, the Penn Intellectual Property Group featured a symposium on design patents and the convergence of existing intellectual property regimes. The event kicked off with keynote speaker Commissioner F. Scott Kieff L’94 of the U.S. International Trade Commission and featured a panel discussion about the past and future of design patents.

. . . 

Cargill suit highlights weight of foreign rules

Reuters reported: 

Cargill’s lawsuit against Syngenta over losses stemming from China’s rejection of genetically modified corn demonstrates how U.S. markets are becoming increasingly subject to foreign rules, say legal experts.

Cargill sued Syngenta Sept. 12 in Louisiana state court for “negligence” in selling U.S. farmers a GM variety that had not yet been approved for import in China.

Cargill case highlights foreign regulatory influence in U.S. : experts

Andrew Chung wrote:

"Major U.S. grain exporter Cargill Inc's lawsuit against Syngenta AG over losses stemming from China's rejection of genetically modified corn demonstrates how U.S. markets are becoming increasingly subject to foreign rules, legal experts said on Tuesday.

Cargill sued Syngenta on Friday in Louisiana state court for "negligence" in selling U.S. farmers a genetically modified seed that had not yet been approved for import in China.

Professor examining potential laws to regulate de-extinction

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

LAWRENCE — Science has a way of catching up with fantasy. While movies like “Jurassic Park” brought dinosaurs back to life, few imagined that the day might come when extinct creatures could be revived. But the possibility of such revival is not only real, it’s getting closer all the time. A University of Kansas law professor is part of a group of scholars working to propose legal framework to address the myriad questions “de-extinction” will bring to the table.

Andrew Torrance, professor of law and Docking Faculty Scholar at KU’s School of Law, recently took part in a de-extinction conference at Stanford University and is crafting suggestions for potential law to deal with the controversial science as it becomes reality.

“I have a weakness for exactly this kind of project,” Torrance said. “It’s very cool from a scientific perspective, plus I think I was like every kid growing up who thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I could see a dinosaur some day?’”

While dinosaurs won’t be revived — the fossils are too old and contain no usable DNA — other more recently extinct creatures such as woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers and passenger pigeons could potentially be revived. The biotechnology is mostly in place. What’s not in place is law to address questions such as who would own such revived creatures, how their habitat would be governed, international relations among countries housing such creatures and who would be responsible for potential damages among others. Torrance, who holds a doctorate in biology and law degree from Harvard University, was part of the Harvard conference to address the legality of such matters. Other scholars addressed the ethical and philosophical questions.

“The basic science is already there. You have to somehow get a full genome, which is not a trivial problem, but a lot of those breakthroughs have been made,” Torrance said. “In some ways, though, the technology is not as important as the ethical and legal questions. If you resurrected a mammoth, would you set it loose in Times Square? And who would be liable for the damage it caused?”

Torrance advocates for developing a legal framework to address de-extinction before it’s common practice and says there are precedents that can be used to start the process. At the conference he cited the Endangered Species Act, a popular bipartisan law/legislation that allows for protection of endangered species. The law and its implications must be considered in respect to de-extinction he said, as the incentive to protect endangered creatures might wane if people believe they can simply bring it back in a generation or two.

“It changes the idea of what endangerment means. And it changes the meaning of extinction,” Torrance said. “If a creature can be brought back, was it ever really extinct?”

Torrance also addressed the question of how revived species would affect current ecosystems. He cites numerous laws that are in place to deal with invasive species. The United States and international laws have addressed such questions in many cases, and similar efforts would need to be made to address potential damage or changes revived species could have on modern ecosystems.

Genetic modification is another question domestic and international lawmakers will need to consider, Torrance said. In the United States genetic modification is commonly accepted especially among crops such as corn and wheat, but it is not as freely accepted in other nations. International treaties such as the Cartagena Protocol allow nations to suspend normal trading rules to prevent genetically modified products from entering their country if they object to their presence. Such treaties would need to be considered for revived species, especially considering that many animals tend to migrate or spread across borders, Torrance said.

The first several generations of revived species would almost certainly be genetically modified by definition, he said, especially if scientists need to borrow DNA, even in small amounts, from species related to those being revived.

Torrance and colleagues will continue to craft scholarly articles and policy recommendations for consideration by lawmakers. The time to act is now, Torrance said, because the science will be in place eventually, whether the law is ready.

“I think law is at its worst when it’s reacting,” Torrance said.

By working together proactively, scientists, lawmakers and the public can craft regulations that would prevent many potential problems as well as avoid heavy-handed regulations that would stifle innovation.

“De-extinction is something we do need to regulate, but in proportion to the potential risk it could create,” Torrance said. “The law will react one way or another. I think it would be best if it reacts in a way that’s both beneficial to the science and public interest and in a way that keeps costs minimal.”

SCOTUS rules that human DNA cannot be patented

In what might be something of the Court trying to find a middle ground, justices did say something they create out of gene isolation could be patented making it a win for Myriad genetics – one of the players in this case – because they created a synthetic form of the genes.

Host Carmen Russell-Sluchansky spoke with Andrew Torrance, a law professor at the University of Kansas, and Dr. Caleph Wilson, of the Translation Research Unit and the Department of Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania, to discuss the story.

 

Supreme Court Says Human Genes Can't Be Patented

The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that segments of naturally-occurring human genes cannot be patented. The ruling may change the focus of genomic research, but it won't stop it.

Professor Andrew Torrance specializes in biotechnology patent law at the University of Kansas. He says the ruling falls hardest on companies that have invested billions of dollars, hoping to profit from patents on human gene fragments like those that help reveal a person’s risk for breast cancer.

Should we bring back the passenger pigeon and the woolly mammoth?

Ethicists, scientists, lawyers and biologists gathered at Stanford University for a day-long conference to discuss whether we should bring back species that have been extinct over the past several thousand years. A USA Today story on the conference quoted Andrew Torrance, professor of law, who participated:

The legal issues that will surround revived species are very unclear, said Andrew Torrance, a law professor at the University of Kansas and former biotech patent lawyer. But in general, he thinks "there are no solid legal barriers yet to de-extinction."

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