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The Case for IP

USC Marshall convenes a power panel of intellectual property professionals, with USC President C. L. Max Nikias and Dr. Gary K. Michelson 

November 02, 2017
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If you’re an undergraduate entrepreneur at USC, what’s your relationship with intellectual property?

Well, it’s complicated.

As college graduates enter an increasingly competitive and global knowledge-based economy, intellectual property—driving more than $6 trillion in annual output and responsible for more than 80 percent of the market value of publicly-traded companies, has become a critically important area for future entrepreneurs and business leaders.

To underscore this message, USC undergraduates were invited to a powerhouse lineup of IP professionals and thought leaders from Facebook, Disney, IBM, the Federal Judiciary and the U.N.  for “Leveraging Intellectual Property in Today’s Knowledge Economy,” a panel discussion held Oct. 30 at Town and Gown.

What’s the Big Idea?

Intellectual property refers to ownership of intangible assets associated with innovative ideas and concepts atop which virtually every aspect of our economy rests.  Issues around the safekeeping of those ideas and concepts impact American innovation and competitiveness.

It is an important topic for USC President C. L. Max Nikias, the holder of eight patents himself, and Dr. Gary K. Michelson, an inventor, philanthropist and retired orthopedic surgeon, whose 2014 gift to USC named the Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, which opened Nov. 1.

“With today's global markets, protecting IP is critical to economic growth,” said Nikias. “This is why Dr. Michelson is working hard to elevate the discussion, and tonight, USC partners with him.”

A Personal Mission

A Personal Mission

Michelson is a prolific inventor who holds more than 900 patents for spinal surgery implants, instruments and methods. In 2005 he sold a portfolio of inventions to medical device maker Medtronic for over $1.3 billion. Earlier this year he and Nikias co-authored an Op-Ed in The Hill, on the need to train college students about intellectual property.

“Just look around, whether it’s Facebook or it’s twitter or Google or Microsoft before them, all of these companies were started by people who were in this college demographic,” Michelson told the audience. “Whether they dropped out or not, this is the right time for them to understand the importance of intellectual property.”

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The Deep Bench

The Deep Bench

If there was ever a way to get undergraduate students interested in the complex, ever-changing and sometimes maddening world of intellectual property, the evening’s panel was it. The event brought together leading IP thinkers and practitioners, including the Hon. Paul. R. Michel, a retired chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit who is a frequent speaker on IP subjects and has testified before Congress on patent reform legislation; Allen Lo, VP and deputy general counsel, head of intellectual property at Facebook; Linda Lloyd da Silva, director, communications division at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an agency of the United Nations; Suzanne Wilson, deputy general counsel, intellectual property for The Walt Disney Company; Mark Ringes, VP and assistant general counsel, intellectual property law at IBM.

"These are all big shots." -- Luke Dauchot, attorney and teacher of Marshall's undergraduate course on IP

Moderator Luke Dauchot, a partner at the international law firm of Kirkland & Ellis and instructor for USC Marshall’s first undergraduate class on intellectual property, joked that one of his students had referred to some of course’s earlier guest lecturers as “big shots,” so to save time and forego customary introductions, he simply noted that the panelists “…are all big shots.”

With that much experience in the room and only two hours to work with, the conversation was by necessity broad. Panelists touched on the U.S. patent system and how it’s keeping up with the pace of new innovation (or not); digital copyright protection; and the world stage – how does the U.S. system stack up?

Each of those topics could fill a semester-long symposium.

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The Trolls

The Trolls

In discussing the challenges facing the U.S. Patent system, Facebook’s Lo, who was formerly deputy general counsel for patents at Google, spoke of the ongoing challenge of mitigating the non-practicing entities (or NPEs), who challenge patent holders in the hopes of being paid off to go away in lieu of the costly litigation.

“The challenge small companies had was they couldn’t afford to defend, so they really had a gun to their head, and they had to just pay to make these entities go away if they were going to try and build their companies,” he said.

Different industries experienced this in different ways, however, he said, and there’s been little agreement on how and if to reform the U.S. patent system.

Some on the panel argued that reform has gone too far.

“We’ve weakened the whole system from stem to stern in a way that’s very counter-productive for the needs of the country,” said Judge Michel. “For job creation, for family income, for GDP growth, for global competitiveness, all of these important features have been weakened by the weakening of the overall patent system in an attempt to deal with the trolls.”

On the topic of copyright infringement, Da Silva, of the World Intellectual Property Organization, pointed to alternative solutions outside of the U.S.

“South Africa, for example, has established a joint task force that combines the intellectual property unit of its government together with its enforcement unit, and together they’ve created a new unit focused on combination of education and enforcement,” she said. “They emphasis the value of creativity that anyone can aspire to, either for personal or commercial gain.”

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First Class

First Class

The USC Marshall School of Business offered one of the very first classes on intellectual property aimed at undergraduates when it created and launched “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Intellectual Property,” in the fall. The class, led by Dauchot, introduces the fundamentals of patent, copyright, trademark and trade secret property; demonstrates how intellectual property is put to work; and prepares students for the social and economic implications associated with I.P. at work. It is open to all USC undergraduates and offered within the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

As the discussion wrapped up, students surrounded the speakers, eager for further questions. Dauchot looked pleased.

"IP is important,” he said. “The aim of the course, and in particular this evening’s gathering, is to impress on everyone that IP has consequences. If we get everyone to appreciate just that much, I consider it a victory."

“Leveraging Intellectual Property in Today’s Knowledge Economy” was produced by USC Marshall in collaboration with the Michelson 20 Million Minds (20MM) Foundation, dedicated to transforming learning and improving access to educational opportunities that lead to meaningful careers.

 

 

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