I will be attending the 2010 Intellectual Property Scholars Conference next week at UC Berkeley, as an observer rather than a presenter. I’m looking forward to the conference: seeing lots of friends, listening to presentations, fishing for great new papers. But I have a curmudgeon’s view of much of the working-paper-conference phenomenon. Rather than wait until the conference is over to express that view, I’ll put it out here now. From this post-IPSC post that I wrote all the way back in 2007:
Law professors who don’t have terminal degrees don’t get trained in the ethos of scholarship the way that graduate students are supposed to, so learning an ethos is sometimes a hit-or-miss proposition. In IP, with the growth in the field over the last several years, there are a couple of places (in addition to not submitting a paper when an abstract has promised one) where the misses are pretty obvious.
One is presenting raw and half-baked ideas at big public conferences like this one. Presenting a work-in-progress doesn’t necessarily mean presenting an unfinished work. There are times and places for sharing very-early-stage work: With small numbers of trusted friends and colleagues. At brown-bag lunches. With an Associate Dean for Faculty Development, or a mentor, if there is one. At roundtables organized for that purpose. At a big public conference, however, the paper may not be in its final form, but the form that is delivered should be final. That type of conference isn’t always a reputation maker, but it can be a reputation breaker. And the audience will give better and more thoughtful feedback to a presentation that has been evidently thought through than it can to one whose gaps are obvious.
Two is not being aware of the historical context of the work. By far the biggest flaw in presentations and papers by junior IP scholars (and sometimes by more senior IP scholars) was and is their evident ignorance of earlier work. And not just or even work published within the last year or last five years; I’m thinking of the fact that a lot of foundational work published ten years ago or earlier remains significant today. IP doesn’t have a sclerotic hierarchy, but it does have senior people who are still active scholars today, and their earlier work still matters. And, of course, there is quite a lot of relevant work from decades ago and scholars no longer with us.
That post prompted several great comments, which are still worth reading.
It took me a while to do something in response to my own critique, but at last, earlier this year, I stepped out with a series of blog posts that I called “Lost Classics of Intellectual Property Law,” identifying older works of patent, trademark, and copyright scholarship that are important to the history of the discipline(s). The series begins here, and it (and each list) is a work in progress.