Radical innovation requires changes to law
Left to right: Bo Rothstein, CFHU Vancouver president Randy Milner, Prof. Michal Shur-Ofry and Justice Bruce Cohen. (photo by Michelle Dodek)
The main boardroom at Farris was full of lawyers who had come to hear Prof. Michal Shur-Ofry of the law faculty at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Oct. 6 event began with a brief presentation by University of British Columbia law professor Christie Ford on her experience at Hebrew University in the spring as part of the Mitchell Gropper Law Faculty Professorship Exchange. Bo Rothstein, a partner at Farris, gave a warm welcome and introduced the keynote speaker, an internationally recognized expert in intellectual property (IP).
Shur-Ofry’s lecture was titled From Newton to Shechtman: Can Intellectual Property Facilitate Nonlinear Innovation? She told the story of Dr. Dan Shechtman, an Israeli researcher who observed “quasicrystals” in 1982, a discovery that scientists were convinced was impossible; Shechtman nearly lost his career as a result of publishing his findings. In 2011, however, he was vindicated when he was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry for this discovery. The dramatic story of this Israeli Nobel laureate illustrates aspects of nonlinear innovation, those that shift existing paradigms.
Another example of such a paradigm shift, said Shur-Ofry, was the introduction of cubism by the artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Their movement away from the representational depictions that had previously dominated art was at first ridiculed. Once accepted, however, their innovative contributions became a crucial building block of 20th-century art and beyond.
The world is currently biased against radical innovators, Shur-Ofry maintained, but she believes that “a de-biasing mechanism” is possible through IP law. This area of law, which encompasses copyright and patent law, can help artists, scientists and other innovators to be brave and to contribute their novel innovations without the kinds of risk taken by the Picassos or Shechtmans, she said.
“If an artist first sells a piece for just $900, and then it is resold for $85,000, the artist is entitled to a share of that sale price.”
Citing droit de suite, a law adopted by the European Union and 70 other countries that gives artists protection by entitling them to part of the proceeds of subsequent sales of their art, Shur-Ofry explained by way of example, “If an artist first sells a piece for just $900, and then it is resold for $85,000, the artist is entitled to a share of that sale price.” She acknowledged that while this type of remuneration exacts a cost on doing business, its benefit to artists who are innovators can drive others to produce novel works, instead of commercially proven, formulaic art.
It is this type of law, along with other incentives to inventors, that Shur-Ofry champions. She described patent laws that would grant access to the successful results of works protected through patents, as well as the “negative knowledge” that results in even greater innovation and discovery. Great problems are often solved by discovering an error in the paradigm, she explained. Therefore, access to the challenges and roadblocks in developing technologies may be the key to solving even greater problems. She said that she hopes to convince lawmakers that changing IP laws will encourage non-linear innovation and be universally beneficial.
The Mitchell Gropper Law Faculty Professorship Exchange facilitates annual exchange between Hebrew University and UBC law professors, and enables annual lectures by visiting Hebrew University law professors. For more information about the exchange or the programming of CFHU in Vancouver, visit cfhu.org or contact executive director Dina Wachtel at 604-257-5133.