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CTIC: Catalyzing research where law, technology, and public policy intersect

July 25, 2012

In the rapidly changing digital world, five years is more time than it takes for a start-up to become an Internet darling. (Think Instagram, the two-year-old photo-sharing application acquired by Facebook in April for $1 billion.) Academic recognition usually takes longer, but at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, five years is more time than it took for the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition (CTIC) to establish itself as a leading academic center at the intersection of technology and public policy.

CTIC, which marks its fifth anniversary this year, was established to “promote pathbreaking research into emerging issues of technology and innovation policy,” said Christopher S. Yoo, John H. Chestnut Professor of Law and CTIC’s founding director.

Over the past five years, the Center has organized annual conferences, including one earlier this year on cloud computing, sponsored numerous workshop series, and hosted visiting scholars. CTIC faculty members have taught an innovative Global Research Seminar, which brought together students from Penn Law and the Techische Universität Dresden for a comparative study of U.S. and European telecommunications law. And just this month the Center sponsored a roundtable discussion at the National Law School of India University in Bangalore about emerging issues in copyright and patent law.

“I think we have one of the most exciting programs going in the country,” said Yoo. “It’s gratifying that my colleagues are starting to recognize it as a bright spot at Penn and across the country.”

In many ways CTIC was an academic innovation waiting to happen. Penn Law is widely known for its leading-edge, cross-disciplinary scholarship and teaching. That orientation, the growing demand in the legal marketplace for practitioners fluent in both law and technology, and the availability at Penn of leading scholars working in the field were all part of the impetus for CTIC’s creation in 2007.

“The University of Pennsylvania brings together an extraordinary constellation of scholars focusing on law and technology,” said, Yoo, who has a secondary appointment in the School of Engineering’s Department of Computer and Information Science. CTIC faculty members include scholars from the Law School, the Wharton School, the Annenberg School for Communication, the School of Engineering, and even the English department. Represented are a former chief economist of the Federal Communications Commission and leading authorities in fields ranging from copyright, patent law, cyberlaw, and regulation to First Amendment law, computer networking, and industrial organization.

“Technology law is not just about the law anymore,” Yoo said of the disciplinary mix. “It’s also about economics; it’s also about engineering; it’s also about culture. And even within the law there are a whole variety of areas of law that play important roles, including the First Amendment, antitrust perspective, intellectual property perspective, and increasingly I’m discovering that there’s a contract theory perspective about what kinds of arrangements you can make and how the technological architecture has to be designed to support them.”

If integrating insights from diverse disciplines is one hallmark of CTIC scholarship and programming, another is insuring that the Center serves as a forum where the full range of intellectual perspectives on policy issues is recognized. Said Yoo: “Many law and technology centers develop a distinct public policy positions and build programs around people who support those positions. I try to the greatest extent possible to make sure that if it’s a panel of four people, two are on each side, so they all disagree.”

CTIC also bridges the worlds of business and academia. According to Yoo, academic work in the law and technology field is frequently untethered from both technological complexity and economic realities. The result is a kind of utopianism and policy recommendations that disregard certain technical and business realities. “Industry players who are currently deploying these technologies need to be part of this conversation,” Yoo said, “because I think that many people in the academy often theorize in ways that don’t actually reflect what the real industry is doing.”

The conference last February on cloud computing, for instance, featured the perspective of IT managers charged with purchasing cloud-computing services for their companies. They grounded the discussion in the real economic benefits of cloud computing and such practical concerns as privacy, security, access to data in the event of a system failure, and how service providers would respond if subpoenaed by law enforcement authorities to turn over company data.

To have real-world impact, CTIC programs also engage government officials. “I conscientiously invite policy makers from the Federal Communications Commission, the Justice Department, Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and other organizations to participate, in the strong belief that they are an important audience for these sorts of discussions, as well,” Yoo said.

In the coming academic year, CTIC will continue to expand its scope. The Center will welcome its first research fellow and will integrate its work with the Law School’s new Detkin Intellectual Property and Technology Clinic. A CTIC conference in October, co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, will bring together scholars from around the country to consider the evolving Internet, revisiting the issue of cloud computing and such other developments as the shift to wireless technology. Another conference later in the year will explore the integration of law and computer science, and in the spring a series of one-day workshops will examine emerging patent issues.

Reflecting on the planned activity, Yoo said: “2013 is going to be a banner year for us.”

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