Intellectual Property: Where Creativity and Law Meet

Think all the great ideas are taken? Think again. According to the agencies’ websites, the US Patent and Trademark office received more than 500,000 patent applications in 2010, nearly 400,000 trademark applications in fiscal year (FY) 2010, and the US Copyright Office received more than 350,000 registration requests in FY 2009. While not all of these applications are successful, the statistics show that each year thousands of useful inventions are created, remarkable books and movies are written and filmed, and brilliant works of art are conceived. Of the applications that are successful, these are protected by intellectual property (IP) law.

“I love intellectual property law’s subject matter—art, music, and movies—these copyrighted works support a free culture and freedom of speech. They shape people and how they think about the world,” explains Christina Bohannan, Professor, University of Iowa College of Law. Bohannan’s interest in IP law began while she was attending law school at the University of Florida. There, she had a great law professor who really stimulated her interest in the subject.

At the University of Iowa she is one of nine professors who are part of the Innovation, Business, and Law Center. The Center offers a diverse perspective for students by bringing a group of interdisciplinary faculty together who teach and study problems of business, technology, innovation, regulation, and legal policy.

Bohannan also shares her enthusiasm for IP law by teaching an Intellectual Property Advocacy Tutorial course, which offers students more hands-on projects. “Students enrolled in the tutorial learn IP advocacy by preparing to participate in moot court competitions in the areas of patent, trademark, and copyright law,” says Bohannan. “Discussing the issues surrounding these areas, writing briefs, and practicing oral argument for competition are the cornerstones of the course. It’s wonderful to work more closely with the students. I like that it’s one-on-one.”

The tutorial completely prepares the College’s moot court teams for competition by enlisting the help of lawyers from many Iowa firms. It gives students the opportunity to tackle the challenges of developing succinct oral arguments, polishing their delivery, and it increases their knowledge of IP law by honing in on issues like infringement.

The College’s students have had incredible success at moot court competitions. In February, two teams represented the UI College of Law at the Saul Lefkowitz Trademark Moot Court competition in Chicago. One of the teams received the top award for Best Oral Argument, besting 25 other teams.

Damon Andrews (’11), a member of the trademark moot court team who won Best Oral Argument, feels the moot court program provides real-life courtroom experience. “It’s given me the opportunity to understand how to advocate for a client through brief writing and oral argument that I did not think was possible while still in law school. Professor Bohannan has been instrumental in developing a curriculum that engages and challenges students, while fostering a collaborative working environment for IP-savvy students and those who have a curiosity about the world of intellectual property alike,” says Andrews.

The College also sent teams to the Giles Sutherland Rich Patent Law competition in Chicago and the BMI/Cardozo Copyright Moot Court competition in New York. The copyright team placed third for Best Brief. This summer, two of the IBL Center’s students completed externships, Mattie Clay (’13) for the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, and Joseph Fraioli (’13) for the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Through the panels, classes, and mentorship offered through IBL, I’ve acquired a strong foundation of knowledge about all areas of intellectual property and how they work to protect inventors and creators.
I feel this will give me an advantage over externs who come in with limited, uni-layered knowledge of patents alone,” said Clay. “The IBL program grounded my plans for a career in intellectual property by providing step-by-step support to achieve my goals.”

Fraioli feels the program has broadened his future career interests. “I am very thankful for the IBL program’s support for my externship this summer. The program’s interdisciplinary approach to law encourages students to explore legal opportunities outside of the typical firm or government experience, such as policy and legislation.”

Some students also have attended the Iowa Intellectual Property Law Association annual meeting giving them an opportunity to learn about the latest in IP law practice and meet alumni from the College.

Bohannan also led a project with the University of Iowa Art Museum and the Office of General Counsel focused on researching the copyright status of a number of the Museum’s pieces. Six of her research assistants worked on the project.

Phillip Goter (’11) who was a part of the project explains. “We researched and cataloged the copyright ownership status of the Museum’s most famous works, including Pollock, Picasso, and Hartley. This has been a very challenging and rewarding experience as it involves research into foreign copyright law, two different United States Copyright Acts, and several international treaties.”

The many different areas of study of IP law has Bohannan continuously researching and keeping tabs on current issues in the field. She states that one of the most prominent issues today is the overbreadth of protection in IP law. “It’s gotten to a point where the amount of protection for art, music, etc., is much broader in scope than it needs to be,” said Bohannan. “This overprotection can hurt free speech, cultural development, and individual liberties.”

“Often when patents are granted for a specific invention it can impede the development of future products. Patents contain broad and abstract claims covering technology in one industry, and developers in other industries have no notice that the patent applies to them. They can be caught unaware by infringement claims,” she explains.

She is co-authoring a book with Herbert Hovenkamp, Professor and Ben and Dorothy Willie Chair of the University of Iowa College of Law, entitled, Creation Without Restraint: Promoting Liberty and Rivalry in Innovation, that addresses the need to develop a theory of harm in copyright and patent law.

Hovenkamp also teaches IP courses. IP law continues to grow and has increased in its complexity. Some of the other areas seeing a high-level of activity are patent applications for information and health technology, the green movement, as well as copyright and trademark issues surrounding Internet content.

“Everything we use, read, and hear is a part of intellectual property. It’s really an interesting and exciting field of study that will continue to grow through the years,” said Bohannan.

The College is increasing the number of faculty members who focus on the study of IP law. In July, Jason Rantanen joined the College from the University of California, Hastings College of Law as an associate professor (see Rantanen’s bio on page 42). Recently, he has published articles on federal circuit cases and is a contributing author to Patently-O Patent Blog (, a primary source for current patent law news and information. His scholarship focuses on the legal system and technological innovation.