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Too Many IP Conferences, or Not Enough?

I’ve always considered those in the IP field to be lucky in that, at least in recent years, we have an embarrassment of riches in terms of conferences and works-in-progress opportunities.  However, people have also complained that there are too many conferences, particularly of the works-in-progress variety, and that the works-in-progress conferences have become somewhat too large and too networky to do any real workshopping of ideas.

Thus, whenever someone raises the idea of starting a new conference series, the response is usually that we already have too much of that in the field.

I suppose I’m wondering whether folks thinking of putting together new conferences should concentrate on different formats, and maybe limit them to a smaller number of speakers and focus from year to year on specific topics or specific “levels” of scholarship (eg junior scholars, mid level scholars etc).  I think what we’ve lost from becoming so inclusive is that the conferences do tend to get too large and we miss some of the benefits of, say, the early years of IPSC when we could all fit around a conference table and chat about ideas – and where everyone could catch up with everyone else over lunch or dinner.

I know lots of people blogged about the format of IPSC here while it was happening and it’s undoubtedly a fun conference with some great people, but I do think there is still room for smaller workshoppy conferences to be started perhaps on an “invitation only” basis to fill some gaps in conference format in the IP field.

2 thoughts on “Too Many IP Conferences, or Not Enough?”

  1. I really like this idea. I participated in an ad-hoc gathering of 8 or so junior professors once that was great, even though I was the only IP person.

    Your setup of the problem — “that the works-in-progress conferences have become somewhat too large” and “whenever someone raises the idea of starting a new conference series, the response is usually that we already have too much of that in the field” — reminds me of the old Yogi Berra joke about a bar: “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

  2. IPSC was founded as a small, supportive gathering for junior professors (esp. those outside the elite schools). It’s part scholarship, part mentorship (kudos to Bobbi). It was organized by two top IP programs for a reason. The original plan was to link Cardozo, DePaul and Santa Clara together (due to geographical location, institutional match and the strength of the IP program). We were ecstatic when Berkeley joined the group.

    IPSC 1 included 13 people, all of whom fit nicely into the Rare Book Room at DePaul. IPSC 2 at Cardozo was similar, with everybody fitting inside 1023 (which is now 1008). For reminiscence’s sake, among the bloggers here, Ann was at the first two, and Jacqui and both Mikes were at the second.

    IPSC didn’t become bigger with parallel sessions until the conference returned to DePaul in IPSC 4. That’s the time when schools began to have more than one junior IP professor. The top schools also started to have VAPs and active fellowship programs in the IP or cyberlaw field. 2004 is also the year when WIPIP and the IP Scholars Roundtable were launched.

    With the addition of so many active junior scholars (and good papers) and a large number of fellows who see work-in-progress events as an opportunity to prepare for the teaching market, it is rather hard to go back to the old model, unless the event has a strict geographical limitation or a focus in a niche area (e.g., a WIP event on PVP or semiconductor chip protection).

    Organizers can always go for a by-invitation model, as Jacqui suggested in the original post. But there are already *many* by-invitation events — law review symposia and scholarship colloquia/roundtable (like the TM scholars roundtable Mark and Graeme organize).

    Organizers can also be more selective, as in IPSC 3 (with only 9 papers) — or even more selective, as in the Stanford/Yale Junior Faculty Forum. The push for peer reviews, interdisciplinary work and joint appointments has made this model quite appealing. That said, the negative feedback Berkeley has (unfairly) received in IPSC 3 makes one wonder whether it is worth the effort (and headaches). Maybe things have now changed with so many WIP events, but law professors still don’t like rejections even though we get rejections from law reviews all the time.

    On top of that, there are administrative challenges on both sides. On the participation side, faculty members in many schools can’t get support to go to a conference without presenting a paper. This is particularly true with the present budget cuts in state schools. Unless the organizers are willing to come up with travel support (some do), fewer papers also mean a small audience. Kinda like an 8:15 a.m. panel at Law & Society.

    On the organization side, if the school is putting up so much money to organize an event (which ranges from $5K to 20K), or if the faculty member is putting so much effort, energy and political capital into convincing his/her dean to do it, it is understandable why the organizer would want to maximize the pay-offs.

    All in all, it is very hard for work-in-progress events to return to the good old days without making them look like colloquia or law review symposia. Also, keeping in mind Bruce’s Yogi Berra joke, many of those who complain about crowdedness are also those who would pick big events if they could only afford the time or travel support to go to one or a few conferences a year. 🙂

    This is really longer than what a comment is supposed to be, but alas, it’s too late to rewrite. And you’ve already read the last sentence.

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