Further Thoughts on "IP Transactions: A Possible IP Course"


First a little bit of personal history. Before IP became my 24/7 preoccupation, during the days that Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, and Watergate competed for headlines (aka the 1970s), this Kat chased another intellectual muse and pursued a doctoral program in education. A Ph.D. and assorted publications accompanied that quest, but what was most lasting is my interest in the way that educational courses and programs are structured. As Mrs Kat frequently observes, the "educator" in me has still occupies a prominent part of my professional psyche.

All of this was brought to bear in reading Jeremy's blog post and the ensuing comments of last Friday--"IP Transactions: A Possible IP Course" here. No better person to fashion such a course than the IPKat's friend, Mark Anderson, and we wish him the best of luck in this endeavour. And yet, I came away from the exchange with a certain feeling of unease. In a word, is it ultimately most productive to try and teach transactional principles to IP types, or rather to teach the rudiments of IP to transactional types? [Let's make a forced choice here, replying that both are equally desirable will not do.]

This Kat has done both. First there was a multi-year attempt to fashion a course on IP transactions for law students. He struggled with the course curriculum ("how much to emphasize the distinctive versus the holistic aspects of IP licenses, assignments and the like?"; "how much to don the cap of the would-be professor and how much to wear the cap of the dispenser of practical wisdom"; "how much to lecture and how much to actively engage the students"). Frustration dogged him throughout.

So this Kat jumped at the invitation to fashion a course for Economics students, with the charge from the dean of the faculty to impart in these students a working knowledge of IP principles. That seemed clear enough, but then he starting thinking--"how exactly is he going to know what IP principles are most relevant for Economic students?" For sure, he had the privilege of sitting at the feet of the iconic Richard Posner in trying to learn "law and economics", but the immediate task was quite different. What was of interest was not applying economic principles to the law, but applying legal principles and, in particular, IP principles, in order to promote better learning of Economics. The challenge was daunting and the results were mixed, say 7.5 out 10.

So this Kat moved further even afield, headlong into the world of MBA education. For five years now, his curricular work-in-progress has sought to provide a grounding in IP within the broader educational goals of managerial education. The result is a 20/80 split, providing enough IP to allow meaningful conversation, and then weaving IP issues into the context of the managerial and case study literature, garnished with the occasional guest lecturer from various segments of industry. For whatever reason, the balance between lectures and student engagement has been easier to manage, the integration between IP and business a more seamless enterprise, the overall experience much more satisfying pedagogically speaking.

The cynic might say that the reason for this rests in the nature of MBA education, the point often being made that it is a mile long and six inches deep. The whiff of alleged dilettantism is palpable. Such a claim misses the point. If asked whether to prefer transaction principles for IP types, or IP principles for transactional types, I prefer the latter. But maybe my experience is idiosyncratic. It will be interesting, therefore, to see how this proposed curricular initiative to blend IP and transactional law will work out.

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