Last month, I was invited to speak to the USF Law School Intellectual Property and Cyberlaw Association. A nice group of students all with a shared interest in intellectual property law. I’m not a big fan of presentations, so I spent a few minutes talking about Sun and then opened it up for questions. And, there were many ranging from “how do you monetize products that you give away” to “what is the Peer to Patent project” to “what’s your job like”? It was a very fun session.
But as I drove back to the office, I reflected on one particular question and wished that I had handled it differently. It was asked by a 3L (third year law student graduating this year) who wanted to know whether I thought the current macro-economic conditions were going to impact employment opportunities for this year’s graduates. My response was that I’ve seen several of these downturns in my career and that they are cyclical. I also pointed out that the current economic conditions will likely impact every industry – except perhaps the energy sector. All in all, not a very comforting response on my part.
Here’s what I should have added.
Despite the present economic environment, I can’t think of a better area for future legal career opportunities than intellectual property law. Consider for a moment a few of the recent and more interesting IP cases like Viacom v. Google, Eros v. John Doe, Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roomates.com and A.V. v. iParadigms. Then realize that the technologies and business models underlying each dispute haven’t existed much longer than you have been in law school. The pace of innovation around us is accelerating – not declining. Each year the universities of the world graduate even more engineering and computer science students with the facility to manipulate 1s and 0s in inventive ways. Every day there are new businesses emerging based on the digital economy that will touch every aspect of our lives whether it be in health care, entertainment, politics or consumerism.
And, there’s something else to consider. What I have described here are U.S. examples. Current estimates are that only about 20% of the world’s population is connected to the internet. Without doubt, when the rest of the world is fully able to participate in the digital community, even more innovation will result.
So, Mr. 3L. Take a deep breath. Spend the next few months preparing for finals and the Bar Exam. And, take comfort in the fact that even during this short period the intellectual property landscape will have changed – creating opportunities that you haven’t imagined.
Last fall, we released a revised version of the Sun Contributor Agreement. It’s part of our work to take a fresh look at all of our agreements. The feedback from the open source community has been very positive. So, now we’ve made it available under a Creative Commons attribution-share alike license for others to use with their open source projects
I really dislike the word “compliance”. That may sound a bit odd given that compliance is a large part of my role as a General Counsel. But, to me it’s an oppressive word. Who wants to be told that they have to behave in a certain way? And, having to constantly remind employees of their obligations and of the importance of compliance – well, let’s just say it’s one of those incredibly important, but thankless jobs. So, you can imagine my excitement, when after a particularly exhausting week, I noticed that the last meeting on my Friday calendar was the filming of a Sun corporate compliance video. As I walked to the location, I thought of the 100 other things that I would prefer to be doing at that moment including my tax returns, giving my fidgety son a haircut and commuting in rush hour traffic.
When I arrived at the conference room, no one seemed to have any idea of what we were to talk about as the director of the video intended for it to be completely unstructured – his attempt at corporate “reality TV”. Just a few Sun executives discussing compliance while hand-held video cameras captured the conversation. For the next ten minutes, my fellow participants and I struggled to identify the points we thought we should cover. But, none of us were particularly excited. Finally, Jonathan asked a single question: “why is compliance important to Sun?”
It was the only question asked. And, well over an hour later, we finally stopped talking.
Our conversation was wide ranging and passionate with personal examples of why compliance is so significant to each of us. Despite my initial lack of enthusiasm, I came away from the session feeling energized by the fact that we all viewed compliance the same way. Not as something you do to avoid negative consequences (loss of employment, criminal penalties and fines). But, instead, because you want to behave in a way that reflects the values of your community. In our case it’s a global community of more than 30,000 people wearing one of these.
Anyway, below is the link for the final video. I had hoped to include just the uncut version and have you listen to the entire conversation. But being that it was more than an hour in length, I didn’t kid myself into thinking that I could hold your attention that long — you can thank me later. The people in the conference room with me are Jonathan, Cheryl Fackler Hug, our Chief Compliance (there’s that word) Officer and Bill MacGowan EVP of People and Places (the gentleman who sounds like Tom Waits). It also incorporates additional segments with other Sun executives and board members.
In the category of “things they don’t teach you in law school”.
This morning, our CEO stops by with an urgent request for legal support. Major litigation? Large strategic acquisition? Not quite. Instead, he asks me to review a blog he wants to post as an April Fool’s Day joke.
Like I’ve said, my job’s really different…