The Brief: Law School News and Events

Michael A. Fitts
Dean and Bernard G. Segal
Professor of Law

Last February former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman visited the law school to speak about the breakneck pace of technology – nearly 500,000 patent applications were filed in the United States in 2008 – and what it means for intellectual property law. In a fascinating and learned lecture, he spoke about the tensions between innovation and infringement, antitrust restrictions and intellectual property law, predicting that these and other thorny IP issues will fall to the Supreme Court if Congress fails to act, creating an entirely new field of law.

His address got me thinking about how much has changed in this field since I attended law school. When I went to law school thirty years ago, our vision of property was quite traditional. I thoroughly enjoyed learning the rules of perpetuities, vesting leases and so forth. However, I recognize that it all seems antiquated now. And this in the space of one generation! No longer do we think of property in solely physical terms. Today, the realm of property covers ideas and technology that could not have been imagined then. In this new digital age, lawyers, academics and even law school deans must consider a host of new questions about what constitutes property, and how to protect it.

With that in mind, we are devoting many pages in this issue to a broad discussion of e-books and what they portend for IP law. I often note that our alumni are leaders. And that holds true in this emerging field. The main subjects of our story – R. Bruce Rich L'73 and Michael Boni L'88 – have been involved in and on opposite sides of some of the most important digital-related copyright cases in recent years. They do not agree on much, but both believe that there is no need to rewrite IP laws. Both think it is better for content providers to adapt to new conditions.

In this, the publishing industry has a footprint to follow, or rather, a business model to avoid. Record companies paid a literal price for the prevalence of piracy, which led to the closing of retail music stores, a proliferation of lawsuits, and a campaign to stop illegal downloading. In this issue, however, we focus more on the pleasures of music rather than the mistakes of the music industry, featuring four alumni who are serious musicians as well as serious lawyers, demonstrating, again, that our graduates possess many talents.

In parting, we note the passing of Noyes Leech C'43, L'48 and Liz Kelly HOM '85. Noyes and Liz made an indelible impact on the Law School. A man of rich intellectual gifts, Noyes was a pioneer in international law. He trained hundreds of Penn Law students and in many ways embedded himself into the culture here. With indefatigable energy, Liz spearheaded the effort to build Biddle Law Library. It does not bear her name, but it bears her imprint. Farewell.

Dean Fitts' signature