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USF Symposium Examines Clean Technology and the Law

October 12, 2010

Legal practitioners, professors, policymakers, and private industry leaders gathered at the University of San Francisco on Friday, Oct. 1 for the symposium “Clean Technology and the Law: The Legal Infrastructure for Promoting the Development and Dissemination of Clean Technologies.”

Arthur O'Donnell, executive director of the Center for Resource Solutions, delivers the keynote address.

The day began with a keynote address by Arthur O’Donnell, executive director of the Center for Resource Solutions. O’Donnell discussed how to be successful in the clean energy market, saying “not only do you have to know the regulatory structure, you also have to know where your customers are.... Look to those people that want to make a change that isn’t mandated by the regulatory structure. People are willing to pay more to get clean energy.”

The symposium’s three panel discussions focused on key issues in distributed generation; intellectual property mechanisms for the development and dissemination of clean technologies in the United States; and intellectual property and international clean technology transfer in the developing world.

During the panel on U.S. intellectual property issues, UC Berkeley School of Law Professor Peter Menell, who is director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, stressed the importance of balancing intellectual property protections with the need for continued innovation.

“We know from economic history that innovation is the result of cumulative (building blocks), building on the work of others and that creates certain challenges,” Mennell said. “We want to protect the pioneer, but people want to build on that pioneer’s work.”

From left to right: Paul Douglas, manager of renewable procurement and resource planning, California Public Utilities Commission; David Rubin, director of service analysis, PG&E; Matthew Freedman, staff attorney, The Utility Reform Network; Kevin Fox, co-founder and partner, Keyes & Fox, LLP; Steve Weissman, associate director for the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment, UC Berkeley.

Vern Norviel, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goofrich & Rosati who helps small companies obtain start-up funding, said venture capitalists expect clean tech companies to have a clear intellectual property strategy.

“You must have 100 percent assurance that zero people can stop you,” Norviel said. “You have to boil the ocean and make sure that there is no patent out there that can cause you a problem or, if there is, you’ve gone out and bought it or licensed it. On the flip side, the venture community also wants you to be able to stop the competition from getting anywhere close to you.”

In his welcome address at the symposium Dean Jeffrey Brand reminded participants of the importance of the issues at hand.

“This conference is simply about accessibility to green technology and all that that phrase implies: reducing our carbon footprint, helping to solve the massive problem of global warming and reshaping the world economy as we continue to feel the effects of the global economic collapse,” Brand said. “This symposium, as I see it, is simply and profoundly about protecting our planet and ensuring our economic well being. Amidst complex legal issues is the much simpler reality that if we don’t act soon it may be too late. Indeed, the importance of your work cannot be overstated.”

The symposium was organized by Professor Alice Kaswan and students Tucker Cottingham 3L and Tom Bone 2L. For more information about the panels and speakers, click here. To watch the symposium proceedings, click here.