Interview With UCLA Law Professor Doug Lichtman

For years I have known for Doug Lichtman, at least in a virtual, Internet kind of way.  He was kind enough to share his thoughts and views about patent law and scholarship when I was cutting my teeth trying to do scholarly writing back in my law professor days.  Recently I got back in touch with Doug and learned that he had a new Internet project underway.  I asked him if he might take a few minutes on the record to describe his new labor of love – IPColloquium, which is, in his words, “an NPR-style talk show, but focused on intellectual property topics.” Before jumping to the interview, allow me to introduce Doug Lichtman.

Professor Lichtman joined the faculty at UCLA in 2007, after a tenured teaching career at the University of Chicago. His areas of specialty include patent and copyright law; telecommunications regulation; and general legal issues pertaining to technology firms and the Internet. Lichtman’s academic work has been featured in journals including the Journal of Law & Economics, the Yale Law Review, and the Harvard Business Review. He also writes forthe Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. Lichtman also maintains an active consulting practice, advising Fortune 100 clients on patent and copyright strategy. He is also currently serving as Scholar in Residence at the Los Angeles office of Loeb & Loeb.  In his spare time he enjoys playing catch with his son, which will make more sense after you read the interview.  So without further ado, here is my interview with Professor Doug Lichtman.

Thanks for taking time for this interview.

My pleasure.  Thanks for having me.

So how are you liking Southern California? It must be quite different than Chicago.

It is different from Chicago. On the professional side, though, this is a dream area for intellectual property, given that the studios are based out here, there is an enormously active entertainment law community, and some substantial patent work is done in this area, particularly related to pharmaceuticals and biotech. On the personal side, everyone always talks about the weather, but it really does make a difference. There’s something cathertic about being able to play catch with my son, outside, year-round.

I must say that I am a bit jealous. I absolutely love Southern California, but I am partial to Newport Beach and Laguna myself. How did the the move from the University of Chicago to the UCLA come about?

I was sad to leave Chicago; I had in many ways grown up at the University of Chicago, and I was and still am terribly fond of that place and its wonderfully engaged and ambitious culture. But UCLA offered a combination of draws that in the end were just too strong. The law school has been building a fantastic intellectual property program, with folks like David Nimmer and Neil Netanel already on board, and harnessing the community I mentioned above from the studios, and the entertainment bar, and the like. Moreover, UCLA students tend to be particularly interested in intellectual property, which keeps the teaching incredibly fun. On top of that, we have family in the area, and bringing my son closer to his grandparents really seemed important for his life, and theirs, and mine too.

I understand that you have started a new endeavor – IP Colloquium – that is sponsored by the UCLA School of Law. Can you tell us about IP Colloquium and what it is?

IPColloquium is designed to be something like an NPR-style talk show, but focused on intellectual property topics, and aimed primarily at a legal audience. Guests are drawn from legal academia, the judiciary, and the various technology and entertainment communities; and we have had some great guests so far. This month, for instance, Ed Felten from Princeton came on to talk with me about DRM. In January, Chief Judge Paul Michel joined me to talk patent reform. And as an added bonus for at least part of our audience, anyone who listens to the podcast can earn free CLE credit in California, New York, Texas, Illinois, or Washington.

How did you manage to get Chief Judge Michel to participate in an IP Colloquium podcast? Was there much arm twisitng involved?

That just happened, actually. I had done a podcast with Professors Rob Merges and John Duffy about the Bilski decision, and someone in Judge Michel’s chambers emailed me to ask for a copy of that show. When I responded, I asked if the Chief might possibly be willing to come on a later show to talk patent reform; and, a few days later, his assistant emailed to set up a call. We talked for about two hours late one afternoon — he was great; warm, gracious, patient, interesting — and the result was a pretty good podcast, I think. It was hard to push him sometimes, just because it is awkward to push back against the Chief the way I did in other shows, pushing back against people like Fred von Lohmann or Charlie Nesson. But, even with me taking a little more deferential of a tone, I think the conversation revealed a great deal about how Judge Michel looks at the law and his role in reforming it. And I was really grateful that he took the time to do the show. That one helped us reach a lot of new listeners, most of whom have stayed in the months since and given us a chance to get better still.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lichtman’s interview of Judge Michel

How did you get involved in starting IP Colloquium?

I have always kept an eye out for ways to interact with a broader audience than the one I reach through my scholarship. That’s why I write amicus briefs, pen magazine articles, and do a bunch of public speaking and media things. I’m a big fan of scholarship, don’t get me wrong, but it is not a great way to engage with a large audience. The podcast, then, struck me as a nice alternative. So, when UCLA showed excitement for the project, I decided to give it a whirl.

And is UCLA supportive of this sort of thing?

UCLA is actually amazing when it comes to supporting the faculty in our sometimes-unconventional approaches to public engagement. Thus, I think it’s no coincidence that Eugene Volokh is a UCLA faculty member and runs one of the most successful legal/political blogs out there with The Volokh Conspiracy, and Steve Bainbridge similarly is on faculty and writes his widely read blog on corporate law and, oddly, wine.

In chatting with you before this interview you described IP Colloquium as a labor of love. I know exactly what you mean by that, but for those who have not attempted an undertaking like this can you describe what is involved in getting this off the ground?

Projects like IPWatchdog and IPColloquium are enormously time-consuming, so they only make sense if you have a passion for them. I never felt that way about blogging, and hence the blogs I participated in were always only moderately successful. But this I really enjoy. It takes about eight hours of audio content to make one good hour of a finished podcast. Add to that the time to prepare, the time to edit the final audio for sound quality, and all the adminstrative hassle in terms of getting CLE approval, issuing CLE certificates, doing the record-keeping, maintaining the servers, getting the word out, and more. Each show, then, ends up a real time-sink. But people are out there listening and sending comments and such, which for me makes it all worthwhile.

So what are your short term and long term goals for IP Colloquium? Where do you see this 1 year from now, 3 years and 5 years from now?

I genuinely aspire to move the show toward an NPR-style radio program. I think intellectual property is fundamentally interesting, and a good talk show with prominent guests could satisfy a need out there for worthwhile, fun, educational CLE on IP topics. I’m hoping that people will share their commutes, their gym time, and such with us, and ideally enjoy CLE for a change. Are we there yet? Somewhat. Though I still aspire to have the audios sound better, to get the flow a little more comfortable, and so on. But give us a year, and some feedback, and I really think this could be a successful Internet radio show. I’d love that.

I have thought about Internet radio myself, but there is only so much time for so many different things.  I wish you the the best of luck with IPColloquium.  If your past successes are any indication, it will be a huge success.

Thanks so much.

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One comment so far.

  • [Avatar for Mark Malek]
    Mark Malek
    May 6, 2009 11:54 am

    I listen to Doug’s program and all of them have been great! I really apprecaite all that Doug and his team do to bring these programs to the community. Just as an FYI, the State of Florida gives CLE credit for his program. Thanks Doug and Gene.