Teaching non-lawyers about IP

uclsomYesterday, IP Draughts had a very interesting conversation with Dr Arnaud Gasnier about teaching intellectual property to non-lawyers. Among his many other professional roles, Arnaud teaches at University College London’s School of Management a popular degree module titled Patents and Intellectual Property for Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Managers.

This conversation set IP Draughts thinking about the different ways – the different contexts – in which IP can be taught. Those of us who are legal professionals are used to learning about the ‘hard law’ set out in statutes and case law. Here, the law is the primary focus of the study.

Applying the law to factual situations, such as infringement or licensing, brings in elements of legal practice as well as law.

detailsSome non-lawyers need a detailed understanding of IP law and legal practice, though the level of detail may be less than that required by specialist IP lawyers. For example, an understanding of IP may be essential for business executives who are responsible for the commercial aspects of IP registration, litigation or licensing. These executives are ‘at the coal face’ of IP practice.

IP Draughts has tended to teach people about IP in the above contexts, though sometimes the level of detail is pared down for beginners. The most difficult category to teach, in his experience, has been undergraduate non-law students. They tend not to have any business experience that would provide a context for IP training.

overviewThere is another type of business executive who is responsible for strategic business management. These executives may need to appreciate the nature of IP as a business asset, including its strengths and weaknesses, to help them in formulating business plans and strategies, but they probably don’t need to know the detailed legal rules for those assets. This is probably the context in which many business schools teach IP subjects, if they teach them at all. The focus of the teaching is on business planning, in light of the special features of those intangible assets that are called IP.

An interesting feature of Arnaud’s course at UCL is that by getting students to engage in practical case studies about business, he has managed to bring IP to life for them, even though many of the students are not traditional business school students.

Members of the public, or consumers, may benefit from understanding something about IP, but their needs are often very different to those of business executives. It may be useful for them to have a basic understanding of IP laws in order to avoid being sued for infringement (eg for illegal downloading of copyright works), or to appreciate the meaning of online contract terms, which are often accepted by clicking a box on a website. Those terms tend to include provisions that deal with IP ownership or licensing.

woolySome people encounter IP in a business context, in the very broad sense of what they do to earn a living. For example, a one-man-band design artist may benefit from understanding the basics of IP when signing a contract drafted by a major client, or to avoid copying another person’s design in an unlawful way. Or a person who runs a knitting supplies shop in the high street, and who has their own website, may need to understand the IP risks associated with use of third party materials on the website. These types of business exposure to IP are very different to that of the typical business school alumnus, or the professional IP manager, and are in many ways closer to that of the ordinary consumer. They need a basic knowledge of the law, rather than a more sophisticated understanding of IP as an asset class.

ipocertificateIn light of these varying knowledge-needs, how should we approach the teaching of IP to non-lawyers? IP Draughts is in favour of providing an overview of IP law to non-law students at universities. The UK Intellectual Property Office has picked up this idea, made by IP Draughts and others, and is apparently in discussions with universities to develop it further. We have yet to see what will emerge. In the meantime, the IPO has produced a short (40 minute) online course on IP, known as IP Tutor.

The case-study approach used by business schools would seem to be a good way to teach IP in a lively way, though that approach may need to be adapted for people who are outside the mould of the typical business school student. It will be very interesting to see how IP courses for undergraduate and postgraduate students develop in the next few years.




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