Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Law & Technology

Open Letter on Ethical Norms in Intellectual Property Scholarship

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Law & Technology

Open Letter on Ethical Norms in Intellectual Property Scholarship

Article excerpt

As intellectual property ("IP") scholars, we write this letter with aspirations of reaching the highest ethical norms possible for our field. Changes in the field of IP make it incumbent upon us to look inward, examine our current practices, and begin to frame norms that we hope can apply across the field of legal academia.

We have noted an influx of large contributions from corporate and private actors who have an economic stake in ongoing policy debates in the field. Research funding has increased as IP issues have become more salient in both the political and business realms. And it has coincided with a decline in university funding for basic academic research. Some dollars come with strings attached, such as the ability to see or approve academic work prior to publication or limitations on the release of data. Some dollars simply arrive as donations to IP programs or centers, or in the form of travel grants and other attractive gifts.

At the same time, IP scholars have become more engaged in policy advocacy, the writing of amicus briefs, and the practice of law. In general, we think this is a salutary development. Courts regularly complain about scholarship being unconnected to the real world, (1) and law students worry that they are not being trained to succeed in practice. (2) Greater engagement between scholars and the world of practice can help solve both problems and can also bring a thoughtful, more unbiased perspective to legislative and judicial debates traditionally dominated by interested parties. At the same time, however, IP scholars who are also engaged in practice or advocacy must struggle to keep their academic and advocacy roles separate.

We cannot imagine that any academic believes that his or her judgment is subject to purchase. Nevertheless, the flow of dollars can have an insidious effect on values scholars hold dear in academia. We have seen evidence in other fields that researchers who receive gifts and support can have an uncanny tendency to find results that would please their benefactors. (3) One must be mindful of the delicate pull of friends with money.

Funding can have other subtle effects on academic discourse. In the highest tradition of academic inquiry, scholars should strive to be open to the comments, suggestions, and views of others--learning from colleagues in the field and modifying their inclinations as they hear persuasive arguments. As a community, scholars benefit from constant effort to shape and improve each other's thinking, and such effort makes the entire field intellectually stronger and more valuable. We worry that an influx of money paid to those who take certain positions can cause people to become locked into those positions rather than being open to academic discussion and allowing one's perspective to evolve as part of that discourse. In the long term, the influx of money has the potential to create polarization in the field, creating a situation in which different sides speak only to those with similar perspectives. Such a result could seriously weaken the potential for scholars to strengthen their work by subjecting it to critique and taking seriously the scrutiny it receives.

Finally, we are mindful of the need to protect the role of the academic as a trusted source of reliable information for policymakers and society at large. The issues described above run the risk of creating the impression in the minds of the public that academics are lobbyists rather than scholars--with the accompanying loss of trust.

We do not intend to be critical of any individual academic or the field as a whole. It would be improper to criticize scholars for violating ethical norms when no such norms exist across legal academia. Rather, our goal is to bring attention to the dramatic changes that are occurring in the field, highlight potential pitfalls, and suggest a set of ethical norms to which we will strive to adhere.

IP law is not the first field to encounter these problems. …

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