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The Making of PIE

Founding Faculty Director David Olson shares his views on innovation and entrepreneurship program's progress.

Professor David Olson  Photograph by Caitlin Cunningham

Boston College Law School established the Program on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PIE) in 2017 and appointed Professor David Olson as its founding faculty director. Then-Dean Vincent Rougeau encapsulated PIE’s purpose.

“BC Law has launched this program in order to build stronger bridges between BC Law and the innovation and entrepreneurship communities in Boston and beyond. PIE will build on BC Law’s existing academic strengths—most notably its renowned faculty and motivated students in areas of intellectual property, entrepreneurship, business law, and clinical and experiential learning—to increase the breadth of its impact nationally and the depth of its impact in the Greater Boston area. PIE will host speakers, discussions, conferences, and symposia at BC Law, in and around Greater Boston, and in other cities as well, in partnership with collaborators in the innovation and entrepreneurship space. PIE will also support academic research and student work related to innovation and entrepreneurship. Rich discussions, cutting-edge research, and intellectual exchange will be hallmarks of this new and exciting program.”

What role does BC Law play in developing national and international conversations on patent law?
David Olson: One of PIE’s goals is to provide support for scholarship and academic events that allow BC Law faculty to pursue their research, and that facilitate the sharing of important research with other academics and with policymakers, both domestic and international.

We fulfill an important mission of service to the wider scholarly and policy community by hosting PatCon [the world’s largest conference for patent scholars] on a rotating basis. PatCon is a great collaboration in that four schools with patent law experts and that are geographically dispersed rotate in hosting the conference, which draws people from across the US and the world.

PIE also supports the translation of academic work into legal and policy conversation. For instance, in addition to regularly speaking with the press on legal issues, I have testified before separate committees in the US House and Senate on patent reform, drug pricing, and antitrust enforcement. Many of my colleagues have done likewise. 

What impact did the 2022 patent conference [PatCon 10] have on your own scholarship and work?
DO: The level of patent understanding and discussion at PatCon is unrivaled. When you present a paper at PatCon, the people giving you comments, critiques, and suggestions are those with the most expertise in patents, many of whom have spent decades researching and writing about the evolution of the patent system. Thus, I always come away with helpful comments and suggestions for my work. A couple of days at PatCon can sometimes lead to advances in thinking that wouldn’t happen in a couple of months of study on one’s own. 

In the case of my work, I presented a paper considering whether discoveries of gene functions should be patentable or in some way protectable in order to encourage adequate research in this area. I received feedback from JD/PhD scholars expert in both patent law and the science of genetics. I also received suggestions on further research paths. PatCon is also a great place to brainstorm. I’ve worked out a number of scholarship ideas over coffee or a meal at PatCon, and I know that I am far from the only one.

Can you speak more about the significance of PIE’s collaborations and partnerships?
DO: Partnerships with outside organizations—companies, law firms, and legal organizations— help us to increase our impact. With strategic partnerships, we can bring together the expertise and resources to address important issues in patents, IP, and the broader areas affecting innovation and entrepreneurship. 

For example, with the EU IP firm Kilburn & Strode, we hosted events on the newly created Unified Patent Court and Unitary Patent in the EU, and on  considering the similarities and differences in patent prosecution in the US and EU that can cause problems for companies wanting to patent in both jurisdictions.

What are PIE’s interests beyond patent law per se?
DO: Through PIE, BC Law develops conversations on a broad range of issues related to innovation and entrepreneurship, including but in no way limited to IP. Past events that PIE has hosted show that range. We have:

• Encouraged women to explore opportunities in innovation and entrepreneurship by co-sponsoring the “Women in Innovation and Entrepreneurship” luncheon series with the BC Law Women’s Law Center;

• Hosted talks on artificial intelligence; chemistry and the law; privacy; trademark law and branding; the gig economy; whether workers are contractors or employees; Supreme Court cases; trade and IP issues between the US and China; patent exhaustion and IP first-sale doctrine; the EU’s digital single market; protecting creativity; the ZeniMax v. Oculus/Facebook trial; the sharing economy; recovering Nazi-stolen art; sports and entertainment; mobile apps; and more;

• Partnered with IBM to put on events about cybersecurity at IBM’s state-of-the-art Cybersecurity Range in Cambridge;

• Partnered with the Boston Patent Law Association (where I am also co-chair of the Law Schools Committee) to put on events on IP issues and to host the annual “Making Connections in IP Law” event at which junior lawyers, scientists, and law students come together to learn about career options in IP law and then to network with Boston area law firms with IP practices;

• Partnered with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to put on events on World IP Day.

What’s upcoming on PIE’s calendar?
DO: We will be co-hosting the 5th Annual International IP Summit with Ropes & Gray at BC Law on October 13-14, 2022. This conference brings together IP experts from around the world to discuss IP in an international context.

We will also be co-sponsoring with student groups a number of lunchtime panels at BC Law throughout the academic year. The purpose of these panels is to familiarize students with the areas of legal practice related to innovation and entrepreneurship and discuss developments in these areas.  

What role do sponsors play in PIE’s activities?
DO: An incredibly important area of collaboration is with PIE’s sponsors, whose contributions allow us to do many of the things we do. In addition, sponsors are invited to three annual networking events with students. They are also invited to speak to students about legal issues related to innovation and entrepreneurship, and to help advise us on important developments that should inform our programming. Our list of current sponsors can be found here