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Dean's Column: Intellectual Property at the Boyd School of Law

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Nevada Lawyer Magazine
“the iP curriculum at Boyd is designed to optimize the school’s resources and offer students a wide array of opportunities.”
Dean’s column
BY gUEst coLUmNist PRof. mARY LafRANcE
iNteLLeCtUaL PRoPeRtY at tHe BoYD sCHooL oF LaW
In the last 20 years, intellectual property (IP) has emerged as a fascinating, demanding and complicated subject, and one that is of crucial importance to several of Nevada’s leading industries. One cannot scan the newspapers without seeing reports of cyber-squatters adopting domain names that resemble the trademarks of major resorts and gaming companies, questionable claims of copyright infringement lodged against parties who cannot afford a proper legal defense, seizures by federal agents of goods bearing counterfeit designer labels, assertions of contributory liability against Internet service providers for the infringing activities of their subscribers, disputes involving infringement or validity of software patents, or musicians making conflicting claims to ownership of copyrights and trademarks after the break-up of their band. It is no surprise then, that Boyd law students have shown an increasing interest in developing their expertise in this area. One of the biggest challenges in operating a small law school is maintaining a diverse array of course offerings. The IP curriculum at Boyd is designed to optimize the school’s resources and offer students a wide array of opportunities. Most students start with one or both of our introductory courses: Intellectual Property I, which covers patents, trademarks and trade secrets; or Intellectual Property II, which covers copyright law. Because each of these courses is a three-credit offering, we are able to offer a more in-depth introduction to these subjects than would be possible in a traditional survey course. Many students with backgrounds in science or engineering choose to study patent law and eventually to take the Patent Bar Exam. Students with business backgrounds often take a keen interest in trademark law. Students with artistic, musical or literary backgrounds find endless possibilities in copyright law. Whatever their focus, their studies prepare them to assist future clients with questions that range from the most basic (How do I know if a work is in the public domain?) to the near-metaphysical (When is an invention too abstract to be patentable?). Many students who complete one or both of the introductory courses wish to continue their IP studies at a more advanced level. To make this possible, we created the Advanced IP Seminar, where students pursue individual research projects selected in consultation with their professor, and then present their findings, receiving critiques from their classmates as well as their professor. The resulting research papers are generally of high quality; several students have received awards for their papers, or have published them in law reviews. The international aspects of IP have become increasingly important to Nevada’s technology, gaming and entertainment industries. To address this need, our newest IP offering is International IP, which exposes students to the differences in IP regimes around the world – differences which can significantly affect the commercial interests of future clients who wish to protect their trademarks, copyrights and patented inventions in foreign markets. Starting next year, students seeking a more hands-on experience with which to balance out their doctrinal IP courses will be able to opt for our Licensing Practicum, where they will learn how to draft the key components of several kinds of IP licensing agreements, such as trademark licenses and non-disclosure agreements. In the past, this kind of course was rarely offered in law schools and most of us learned our drafting skills entirely on the job. While a single course cannot cover the entire spectrum of drafting challenges, we hope that our practicum will give Boyd graduates an advantage that their predecessors never had. In addition to our “pure” IP offerings, we also offer three other specialized courses which have strong IP components:
40 Nevada Lawyer
November 2011
entertainment law; cyberlaw; and privacy, publicity and defamation. These courses offer students the opportunity to explore the intersections of IP with other areas of the law, such as contracts, torts and the First Amendment. In September, the law school hosted its first-ever IP conference – Intellectual Property Seminar: Assets, Licensing and Pooling – in partnership with IGT. We were pleased to present an outstanding and diverse group of speakers, including inhouse counsel, attorneys in private practice, legal academics from five universities and the PTO’s General Counsel Bernie Knight. Major topics included the legal and ethical issues involved in the pooling and licensing of IP assets, as well as the impact of the America Invents Act on U.S. patent law and practice. In addition to being well-attended by practicing attorneys, this event was also open to our students free of charge, giving them another opportunity to enhance their IP studies through exposure to cutting-edge developments in the law. The law school hopes to build on the success of this event by hosting additional IP conferences in the future. If there are particular areas of IP which are of special interest to Nevada’s legal community, we hope that you will let us know.
Mary laFrance is the IGT Professor of Intellectual Property Law at the William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Prior to joining the Boyd School of Law in 1999, she was a member of the law faculty at Florida State University, as well as a member of the faculty at the Florida State University School of Motion Pictures, Television and Recording Arts. LaFrance is the author or co-author of five books on intellectual property, and her articles have been published in numerous law reviews. LaFrance’s teaching and research interests include domestic and international intellectual property law, as well as the taxation of intellectual property. November 2011 Nevada Lawyer 41
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