Monday, April 7, 2014

TTIP’s IP Chapter: Nothing to be Gained (Part 1)

President Obama announced in his 2013 State of the Union address that negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a United States-European Union free trade agreement, were on. There is something silly about calling a trade agreement a 'partnership;' the on-going Trans-Pacific Partnership uses this same label. But the folks in Washington are more clever than you and me: they know that the older style ‘free trade agreement’ (FTA) would be DOA in Congress.

TTIP’s central features follow the FTA model. Little thought seems to have been applied to fixing the provisional TTIP agenda: TTIP would provide for zero-level tariffs for U.S.-EU trade, an address various non-tariff barriers between the United States and the EU, introduce a misbegotten investor-state arbitration mechanism, and include an intellectual property chapter. It appears now that little positive can be achieved from inserting an IP chapter into TTIP. It is at best a waste of time -- and could undercut U.S. and EU IP efforts in other fora. What were they thinking?

In this first post, I examine the constraints faced by European Union negotiators. The EU has precious little room for maneuver on the IP front; IP provisions can only attract and intensify opposition to the entire TTIP package. These political limits are clear to the Europeans; they are perhaps underappreciated by the U.S. proponents of TTIP's IP coverage.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Federal conviction for trade secret theft? A comment on Nosal by Karl Manheim and Jeffery Atik

Stealing a trade secret (reprehensible though this may be) has generally not attracted federal criminal liability. Yet in the recent prosecution of David Nosal, the Justice Department applied a computer hacking statute to convict a departing employee for a rather run-of-the-mill trade secret theft: the unauthorized taking of customer lists. Many if not most trade secrets -- like the customer lists involved in Nosal -- are stored on computers. As such, aggressive use of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could convert many trade secret misappropriations -- traditionally civil offenses and a state law matter -- into federal crimes. And this policy shift -- criminalizing and federalizing -- results from the determinations of prosecutors and judges, and not from Congress.

For more of this comment, see Theft of Trade Secrets Brings Federal Conviction on Loyola Law School's faculty blog, Summary Judgments.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce by Anupam Chander

I saw a caravan once, in Afghanistan. It was a little caravan: three camels and a small family. But it was enough of a caravan to invoke in my imagination the Old Silk Road. I wondered (until a French officer ordered me to leave the area) where the travelers came from and where they were headed. All I could take away was their direction of travel: East.

In the Electronic Silk Road, Anupam Chander describes digital trade routes. The new trade proceeds along electronic pathways; it is fiber and cable and not camels that transmits value across great distances. But the Electronic Silk Road Chander studies has a marked geography; place still matters. We find Silicon Valley and Bangalore and (as before) China, marking the major stops and starts along the way (Chander likes the word entrepôt).

And the poles of the Electronic Silk Road, like the Old Silk Road, have valency. Chinese goods seduced the West for centuries: spices and trade goods and the silk that gave name to the trading route. The problem for the West was China’s notorious indifference to Western goods -- the West did not produce much the Chinese wished to have. Money was only a partial solution. It could of course pay for Chinese goods, but money, even in the days of gold and silver, was effectively a future claim on the West held by China. The Old Silk Road did not fit the mercantilist design of offsetting streams of goods.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Sovereign Citizen: Denaturalization and the Origins of the American Republic by Patrick Weil

We each deploy an array of identities in forming our social selves -- we can be, say, a Methodist and also a Southerner, and black and a civil engineer and gay. And all of this and still an American. Each aspect distinguishes us; together they individuate us. No single identity -- even that of our nationality -- adequately describes who we are, how we see ourselves. In these times, we no longer see the possession of one nationality as excluding another; many have more than one nationality. We can be both French and American; one does not displace the other in the modern imagination. (A nod to the late Tom Franck here, who explored these themes, personally and in his writings on nationality.)

Yet certain identities have been viewed as inherently incompatible with the holding of the fullest form of American national identity: U.S. citizenship. At various times one could not be an anarchist or an Asian or a Nazi or a communist and become (or perhaps remain) an American. Patrick Weil examines these disabling identities in The Sovereign Citizen, a thorough history of U.S. naturalization law. His emphasis lies with denaturalization: that is, the legal reversal of the grant of U.S. citizenship to an alien. For much of the 20th century, the recourse to denaturalization expands in parallel with the stiffening of opportunities for immigration. The vulnerability to denaturalization marked the ‘second class’ nature of U.S. citizenship acquired through naturalization; the hold of U.S born citizens on their nationality was (and continues to be) more secure. Denaturalization as a broad practice then collapses: from the Warren Court onward denaturalization has become an exceptional act.

Our view of citizenship shifted during the 20th century. It began as an exclusive (if not jealous) relationship between the United States and its nationals, characterized by duty and loyalty. These understandings differ from today’s far more easygoing tolerance (if not encouragement) of multiple nationalities and distributed allegiance. Weil’s book explores and the targets and the techniques of denaturalization.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Extraterritorial Government Use of U.S. Process Patents after Zoltek

The federal government -- and its contractors and subcontractors -- have long enjoyed an effective ‘compulsory license’ for the use or manufacture of inventions covered by a U.S. patent. 28 U.S.C. §1498 relaxes the government’s sovereign immunity and supplies a special remedy to the patent holder. The patent holder may recover reasonable compensation from the federal government for the use or manufacture. Thus, a government contractor can carry out a contract without concern for an infringement action; the government will answer any patent holder’s claims.

The operation of Section 1498 applies to both product and process patents. Section 1498 contains an express limitation to any claims ‘arising in a foreign country.’ This limitation, as well as the territorial limitation found in the basic patent infringement statute [35 U.S.C. §271(a)], and their interpretation with respect to process patents, were the basis of the dispute between Zoltek Corporation and the federal government.

The eventual resolution of the Zoltek litigation by the Federal Circuit [672 F.3d 1309] settles various questions of interpretation concerning the extraterritorial dimensions of the government use ‘license’ with respect to process patents -- but it also leaves a rather worrisome ‘gap’ in the coverage of the basic provisions concerning process patent infringement. Consider these two propositions:

  1. In the absence of authorization, where every step of a process patent is practiced in the United States, liability under 35 U.S.C. §271(a) results. However, if any step of a process patent is practiced outside the United States, there is no direct infringement. 
  2. Where every step of a process patent is practiced outside the United States and the resulting product is imported into or used within the United States, liability under 35 U.S.C. §271(g) results. 
So here’s the gap (and the facts of Zoltek seem to fall into this gap): if a process patent is practiced partly in the United States and partly outside the United States, there may be no liability. This odd result seems to follow from the text of 35 U.S.C. §271(g), which is triggered by the importation or use of a product.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Talent Wants to be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free-Riding by Orly Lobel

Orly Lobel is not writing about love in Talent Wants to be Free, but she’s not terribly far off topic, for she writes about the suffocating attachments firms can form with their employees. The heart-sickened are told to let go -- and perhaps their beloveds will come back to them. This may be the better course, but it isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t what most of us do (with our insecurities and covetousness). Firms are jealously possessive of their key employees; this is a social fact. Lobel challenges these firms (and the responding legislatures) to consider whether they are indeed pursuing their own best interests by clinging.

Lobel usefully gathers a variety of legal doctrines and instruments into a basket she calls “human capital controls” -- and for this alone her book should be read. Human capital controls include IP and quasi-IP (trade secrets and know-how) rights, as well as a host of contractual features: non-competes, non-disclosure agreements, compensation arrangements (option grants and forfeitures) and post-termination obligations. Together, these elements bind the talented employee to her employer. The orthodox justification for these controls is that they promote firm investment in innovation, including investment in human capital -- that is, in forming the movable productivity of the employee herself. It is the workplace, and not the university, where most valuable human capital is created.

Lobel directly investigates the logic of control -- which is easily conflated with ownership. By controlling human capital, firms capture some of its produce. Creative workers create. In addition, firms withhold these assets from their competitors. According to the received view, employees are rivalrous goods. Lobel challenges this notion (though perhaps not explicitly) -- while we are not public goods, our creations often are.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an all-American Town by Mirta Ojito and The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

In Hunting Season, Mirta Ojito tells the horrific story of the killing of an Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, in Patchogue, Long Island at the hands of a group of brutish teenagers. It is a small-town story with international reverberations. At first blush, it is an investigation of American intolerance for the other run wild. Lucero was a poor, hard-working man, searching for a better life. His attackers are themselves lost souls, largely unknown to one another prior to the evening of Lucero’s killing. Each kid seems to lack the basic human understanding that there is something wrong with beating up a man simply because he is a ‘beaner.’ Patchogue is or was a community where the blood sport of attacking random Latinos goes unremarked. It is a dreadful story Ojito presents, and Patchogue appears as a dreadful place.

So what has happened in Patchogue? What does the killing of Lucero constitute? The knife-wielding 17-year-old points to his Latina girlfriend to demonstrate his open mind. Another attacker is both Puerto Rican and black -- the kids embrace him as their friend. Our American experience with racism -- and hence hate crimes -- largely involves victims from established and permanent communities (including the native community). Nativist violence may fall into a different category. The Patchogue 7 conceded they identified and attacked Lucero because of his ethnicity -- but there seems to be more that drew Lucero into their trap. They also understood that Lucero was a foreigner -- and likely one with a shaky immigration status. Lucero’s vulnerability invites this community reprisal.