Concerned about the increasing influx of corporate and private funding into empirical and policy research, four prominent intellectual property scholars – including UC Hastings Law Professor Robin Feldman – have published an open letter to the legal academy establishing a set of ethical norms for legal scholarship in their field.
In addition to Feldman, the “Open Letter on Ethical Norms in Intellectual Property Scholarship,” published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, is co-authored by Stanford Law School Professor Mark Lemley, Jonathan Masur of the University of Chicago Law School and Arti Rai of Duke University School of Law. More than 40 additional scholars in the intellectual property field from law schools all over the country have already pledged to conform their scholarship to these ethical principles, with their names listed at the end of the article.
“One must be mindful of the delicate pull of friends with money,” state the authors. At the same time as more IP scholars are engaging in policy advocacy, writing amicus briefs, and practicing law, as well as engaging in ever-more complex and expensive empirical research, outside corporate and private financial support for IP scholars and their research has been dramatically increasing. As it has in other fields where such support is common, the creation of ethical standards related to outside financial support has lagged well behind. Noting that several major studies that in other academic fields such as science and medicine have confirmed that results of research are substantially affected by sponsorships and gifts even when researchers attempt to mitigate that influence the authors developed principles for themselves and their colleagues to follow to avoid similar insidious influence.
The letter, written with “aspirations of reaching the highest ethical norms possible for our field,” promotes three related objectives. It says:
“The first is transparency: members of the academic community should disclose any monetary or related inducements that might have the potential to influence scholarly research or create the perception that scholarly research has been unduly influenced. The second is to reduce the potential for overt or subconscious bias to affect scholarly research. Members of the academic community should seek wherever possible to minimize or eliminate outside influences that might inject bias or the appearance of bias into research. The third is to facilitate replicability and examination of existing work by requiring, to the fullest extent possible, the disclosure of the data underlying it.”
The authors provide additional detailed norms for the IP field, and pledge to follow them themselves. These include:
- Disclosure of funding sources for research projects, relevant consulting and representation agreements, and funding for related institutions
- Refusal to engage in quid pro quo arrangements or accept funding where prior approval of findings is required
- Disclosure of underlying data for purposes of research replication
- Working with a spirit of collegiality and open inquiry
- Striving for diverse funding sources for institutions and identification of donors
- Promotion of continued development and adoption of ethical norms in intellectual property scholarship
The authors note that these standards are long overdue by academic standards and critical for the continued integrity of the field. “Similar norms have been widely adopted throughout the life sciences and social sciences, in some cases by rule of the governing professional organizations or academic publishers,” they state. “We believe that legal scholars should abide by norms that are at least as stringent with respect to transparency and avoiding bias.” A list of the 40 signatories to the letter is available in the published working paper at SSRN.