Archive for the 'entrepreneurship' Category

How Can Law Foster Innovative Entrepreneurship? A Blueprint for a Research Program


I just got back from a conference on “Legal Institutions and Entrepreneurship” at Stanford, organized by the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Science and the Kauffman Foundation. Experts from various disciplines, including biology, neuro-economics, zoology, and business studies, among others, discussed the question how innovative entrepreneurship (in the Schumpeterian sense) can be facilitated by legal institutions and alternative institutional arrangements like, for instance, reputation systems.

In my contribution, I presented the idea of a “legal lab” analogous, for instance, to the MIT’s media lab, which would be devoted to the study of innovations within the legal/regulatory system itself and would experiment with innovative institutional regimes (e.g. using virtual worlds such as Second Life as rich social environments). Together with my St. Gallen collaborators Herbert Burkert and Patrick Gruendler as well as with my colleagues and friends at the Berkman Center, John Palfrey and Colin Maclay, I’ve been working on this idea for some months, and I’m thrilled that several conference participants – including Judith Donath and Oliver Goodenough – will help us to work towards a project proposal in the weeks to come.

In my formal presentation, I attempted to frame the main research topics at the heart of the law & entrepreneurship debate by offering an initial mental map, consisting of three related, but analytically distinct clusters of research.

1. The first cluster deals with a set of rather fundamental questions concerning the basic relationship between the legal system and entrepreneurship.

Traditionally – and in the US in particular – law has been perceived as a constraint on behavior. Entrepreneurs, in contrast, are in the rule-breaking business. Entrepreneurship is very much about creative anarchy, as Deborah Spar eloquently described it, and from this angle law is usually perceived as an obstacle to innovation and entrepreneurship. However, a number of scholars – most prominently Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger in a recent paper – have demonstrated that the relation and interaction between the legal system and entrepreneurship is more complex.

In my view, the relation is at least three-dimensional: (a) law can foster entrepreneurship innovation (e.g. by providing incentives for creativity = IPR), (b) it can be in a neutral relationship, or (c) may indeed hinder innovation (e.g. overly protective labor laws). Where law has a positive impact, it does so, as Mayer-Schoenberger argues, in its potential function as a leveler (e.g. lowering market entry barriers), protector (e.g. property rights, limitation of liability), or enforcer (esp. in case of contractual arrangements).

2. A second area of research seeks to gain a deeper, much more granular understanding of the interactions among the legal system, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Within this cluster, one might roughly distinguish between two research initiatives: First, there are attempts aimed at exploring the various elements of the legal ecosystem and its impact on entrepreneurship. Such attempts need to be sensitive to varying contexts, sectors, and cultures (e.g. interplay among the elements is different in ICT market vs. biotech sector; or picture may look very different when it comes to low-income vs. high-income countries).

One example in this category is an earlier Berkman project on digital entrepreneurship that focused on low-income countries. Based on case studies of national innovation policies and successful entrepreneurial projects, we identified the relevant elements and aspects of the legal ecosystem and evaluate their influence on entrepreneurship. We clustered the elements in two basic categories: substantive areas of law and legal process issues. Our big-picture take-away: When it comes to the impact of law on entrepreneurship, much depends on the specific economic, societal, and cultural circumstances.

The second debate with this research cluster relates to the different approaches and regulatory techniques that can be used by law – and their promises and limits when it comes to entrepreneurship. This includes research on different types and forms of regulation, such as direct vs. indirect regulation (e.g. regulation of capital markets); framework regulation, self-regulation, incentive-based regulation, command-and-control, etc. Cross-sectional challenges that occur when law seeks to regulate innovation and entrepreneurial activities, too, fall into this category, including questions such as justification of legal intervention (e.g. fostering economic growth, encouraging spillover effects), prioritization (good legislation as a scarce resource!), timing, trade-offs (e.g. between innovation and risk prevention), how to ensure that the legal system can learn, etc.

3. The third cluster is less analytical and more design-oriented. Again, one can differentiate between two perspectives: One the one hand, how to optimize existing legal institutions to foster entrepreneurship. On the other hand, what are more radical innovations within the legal system itself aimed at facilitating innovative entrepreneurship?

As far as the first aspect – optimization or improvements – is concerned, a number of law reform projects on both sides of the Atlantic are illustrative, all of which claim to facilitate entrepreneurship. Currently, the probably hottest topic is the reform of the patent system in the U.S. Several tax reform projects in Europe are also linked to entrepreneurship. In corporate law, the creation of exemptions for smaller companies – aimed at reducing the regulatory burden, esp. in areas such as accounting and reporting obligations – are further examples.

But there’s a more fundamental design question lurking in the background: Are we working with the right assumptions when creating legal rules aimed at fostering entrepreneurship? Essentially, there are two black boxes when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship:

(1) Regulators often have an over-simplified understanding of the creative processes that lead to innovation. The case in point is certainly the digitally networked economy, with the prominent phenomenon of collaborative creativity and the innovative potential of networks. Behavioral law & economics is in this context particularly important when we seek to understand the underlying mechanisms, and the findings have relevance for instance in the area of IPR systems (with its traditional single inventor/author paradigm, linear innovation as archetype), but also for corporate law (e.g. providing fora for new, highly dynamic, network-based forms of collaboration.)

(2) We don’t understand the entrepreneur’s calculus very well. Mayer-Schoenberger in the paper mentioned above has made this point: How important is predictability and legal certainty? How does risk evaluation really work in the case of innovative entreprneurs? How can law shape these processes? This research cluster is less about substantive areas of law rather than about key variables, such as “incentives”, “risks” and “flexibility”, which may be shaped by using different legal tools (ranging from safe harbor provisions to innovative licensing schemes).

4. Looking forward and in conclusion, I propose the building of an international network of researchers who work on the three clusters mentioned above. In a first step, it would be important to take stock and share existing findings based on which a shared research agenda can be developed.

From a legal/regulatory perspective, a research agenda could focus on three tasks and topics, respectively:

  • First, drafting a number of case studies based on which the interactions between legal institutions and entrepreneurship can be studied in greater detail, across different setting and cultures. Macro-level case studies on national legislative programs and policies (e.g. Singapore, Hong Kong) would be supplemented by micro-level case studies about successful entrepreneurs and their projects/firms/etc.
  • Based on this research, the research network could second work towards a theory of law, innovation, and entrepreneurship, which would include both normative and analytical/methodological components.
  • Third, the research network could establish a “legal lab” that deals with innovation within the legal system itself (see above). Virtual worlds like SL could be used for experiments with alternative institutional designs and to measure their impact on innovation in complex environments.

Law, Economics, and Business of IPR in the Digital Age: St. Gallen Curriculum (with help from Berkman)


The University of St. Gallen has been the first Swiss university that has implemented the principles and standards set forth in the so-called Bologna Declaration aimed at harmonizing the European Higher Education System (more on the Bologna process here.) As a result, the St. Gallen law school offers two Master programs for J.D. students: Master of Arts in Legal Studies, and Master of Arts in Law and Economics.

Recently, I have been heavily involved in the law and economics program (I should mention that St. Gallen doesn’t follow the rather traditional approach to law and economics that is predominant among U.S. law schools. Click here for a brief description of the St. Gallen interpretation of law and economics). Today is a special day for the program’s faculty and staff, because the first generation of students enters the final 10th semester of the Bologna-compatible Master program. Arguably, this 10th semester is rather unique as far as structure and content is concerned. Instead of providing the usual selection of courses for graduate students, we have designed what we call an “integrating semester” in which all students are required to take three (but only three) full-semester courses aimed at “integrating” the knowledge, skills, and methods they have acquired over the past few years. All three seminars – together worth 30 credits – are designed and taught by an interdisciplinary group of faculty members from the University of St. Gallen and beyond, including legal scholars, economists, business school profs, technologists, etc. The first seminar, led by Professor Peter Nobel, Thomas Berndt, Miriam Meckel and Markus Ruffner, is entitled Law and Economics of Enterprises and deals with risk and risk management of multinational corporations. The second seminar, led by Professor Beat Schmid and me, concerns legal, economic, and business aspects of intellectual property rights in the digital age. Professors Hauser, Waldburger, and van Aaken, finally, are teaching the third seminar entitled Law and Economics of Globalization, addressing issues such as world market integration of low-income countries, foreign investments, global taxation, and regulation of multinational enterprises.

My seminar on law and economics of IPR in the digital age starts with a discussion of basic concepts of economic analysis of intellectual property law and a stock-taking of the main IPR-problems associated with the shift from an analog/offline to a digital/online environment. It then follows a module in which we will explore three key topics in greater detail: digital copyright, software and business methods patents, and trademarks/domain names. Towards the end of the semester, we will then try to tie all the elements together and develop a cross-sectional framework for economic analysis and assessment of IPR-related questions in the digitally networked environment. In this context, we will also be visiting the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (in charge, among other things, with working on IP legislation in Switzerland), where we will discuss the promises and limits of economic analysis of IP law with the Institute’s senior legal advisor and the senior economic advisors.

Clearly, we have a very ambitious semester ahead. I’m particularly thrilled that a wonderful group of colleagues from Europe and abroad is helping me to do the heavy lifting (of course, my wonderful St. Gallen team is very involved, too, as usual.). My colleague and friend John Palfrey, Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, the Berkman Center’s executive director, and member of the board of our St. Gallen Research Center for Information Law, will be discussing with us thorny digital copyright issues and future scenarios of digital media. Klaus Schubert, partner of WilmerHale Berlin, will be guiding us through the software patents and business methods patents discussion. Last but not least, Professor Philippe Gillieron from the University of Lausanne will be speaking about trademark law in the digital age, focusing on domain name disputes.

All sessions are (hopefully) highly interactive. The students will contribute, among other things, with discussion papers, term papers, group presentations, and will participate in mock trials (one on Google’s recent copyright case in Europe), Oxford debates, and the like. Unfortunately, the Univ. of St. Gallen is still using a closed online teaching system called StudyNet, but if you’re interested in the Syllabus, check it out here. Comments, thoughts, suggestions, etc. most welcome!

How can Public Policy Encourage Innovation and Entrepreneurship?


The Rueschlikon Conference on Information Policy, chaired by Professor Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, just released its latest conference report on Innovative Entrepreneurship and Public Policy. The report, authored by Kenneth Cukier, includes recommendations for what public policy can do to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. The executive summary suggests five recommendations.

  • Entrepreneur: The Individual – Innovation starts with a “random walk” in “design space,” where ideas can be incubated and challenged. Investing in education is crucial, as is softening the consequences of failure.
  • Social Networks: The Group – The relationships among people, firms and nations help determine the degree of diversity they are exposed to, which influences inventiveness. Supporting the interactions across groups is essential.
  • Organizing R&D: Universities and Firms – A networked-model based on connections, collaboration, flat hierarchies, modularity and constant “re-writing” is required. This enables groups to respond successfully to discontinuities.
  • Creating Clusters: Geographic Areas – Places where finance, technical talent, legal, accounting and marketing support intermingle aids the innovation process. Yet it should ideally be technology-neutral, and not reliant on one technical domain.
  • Public Policy: The Role of Government (Municipal, Regional, National) – Reengineering society for a networked economy requires resources, patience and ceding control International cooperation with new stakeholders is imperative.

The full report with the title Hero with a Thousand Faces is available online.

Testifying on Swiss DRM-Protection Bill


Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to provide expert testimony before the Legal Affairs Committee of the Swiss Council of States (roughly equivalent to the U.S. Senate) regarding Switzerland’s implementation of the WIPO Internet Treaties and revision of the copyright act, respectively. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the bill is hotly debated among different stakeholders, and the committee members confirmed that they have received many letters and e-mails in the run-up to the hearing.Right after a presentation by Apple’s iTMS Switzerland Managing Director, I testified about alternative business models for the distribution of digital content that don’t (primarily) rely on DRM protection. Of course, I was also talking about the Berkman Center’s Digital Media Exchange Project. After the presentations, the committee members asked a series of excellent questions about technological, economic, and legal aspects of DRM. Since the debates are traditionally confidential, I can’t go into details here. Instead, I would like to point to some of the characteristics of the bill that I find particularly commendable:

  • The bill only prohibits the circumvention of effective technological protection measures aimed at protecting copyrighted materials.
  • The bill includes a definition of the effectiveness criterion.
  • The ban cannot be enforced against individuals who circumvent TPMs in order to make use of the work in a way that is traditionally permitted by the copyright act (e.g. making a private copy).
  • In contrast to the EUCD, all the exceptions and limitations also apply to on-demand services.
  • Although the bill creates civil and criminal liability, it adheres to the principle of proportionality with regard to sanctions and penalties. In the context of criminal sanctions in the case of circumvention of TPMs, intent (“Absicht”) is required.

On the other hand, several areas of concern remain (see here and here for background information):

  • It’s unclear as to what extent the beneficiaries of a copyright exception can make use of it vis-a-vis TPM. An earlier draft created an innovative and powerful enforcement mechanism (see former draft art. 39b and art. 62, translated here), but the revised draft before the parliament now proposes the establishment of an oversight body (“Beobachtungsstelle”) that facilitates discussion between the stakeholders and might have the power, upon authorization by the Swiss Federal Council, to intervene (e.g. by way of recommendations) in the case of DRM misuse if the “public interest” would require it.
  • The encryption exception has been mentioned in materials, but not in the bill itself.
  • The ban of trafficking in circumvention devices is absolute.
  • The bill doesn’t address transparency and interoperability issues – although I agree that the copyright act is not the best place to deal with these issues.

Besides these TPM-related issues, it is noteworthy that downloading files from P2P services remains legal (private copying exception) under the current version of the bill. In this context, one might also want to mention that the bill doesn’t seem to build on the (contested) assumption that DRM and anti-circumvention laws will reduce piracy. Here as in all other areas, it will be interesting to observe – given the lobbying efforts by the copyright industry – how the draft legislation further evolves once it is debated in public by our national law-makers.

YJoLT-Paper on Search Engine Regulation


The Yale Journal of Law and Technology just published my article on search engine regulation. Here’s the extended abstract:

The use of search engines has become almost as important as e-mail as a primary online activity. Arguably, search engines are among the most important gatekeepers in today’s digitally networked environment. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that the evolution of search technology and the diffusion of search engines have been accompanied by a series of conflicts among stakeholders such as search operators, content creators, consumers/users, activists, and governments. This paper outlines the history of the technological evolution of search engines and explores the responses of the U.S. legal system to the search engine phenomenon in terms of both litigation and legislative action. The analysis reveals an emerging “law of search engines.” As the various conflicts over online search intensify, heterogeneous policy debates have arisen concerning what forms this emerging law should ultimately take. This paper offers a typology of the respective policy debates, sets out a number of challenges facing policy-makers in formulating search engine regulation, and concludes by offering a series of normative principles which should guide policy-makers in this endeavor.

As always, comments are welcome.

In the same volume, see also Eric Goldman‘s Search Engine Bias and the Demise of Search Engine Utopianism.

On Grokster, Finally


Late, very late, but hopefully not too late — finally online available some thoughts on Grokster by Harvard Law School Clinical Professor John G. Palfrey, Jr. and me. It’s a piece written for a non-U.S., non-IP-law-audience with a general interest in the topic. Here’s the abstract:

In summer 2005, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision which is surely destined to play a significant role in the interrelation between law and technology in the coming years. The case, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., et al. v. Grokster, Ltd., et al., pitted copyright holders against the operators of certain peer-to-peer online file-sharing services and was awaited by many in both the legal and technology communities as a referendum on the landmark legal precedent set in the “Sony-Betamax” case. The Sony case came to represent the legal standard for determining when manufacturers of “dual-use technology”—technology capable of both legally noninfringing and infringing uses—should be given a safe harbor from liability for acts on the part of their consumers which violated copyright law.

Surprisingly, the Supreme Court’s decision did not center around an affirmation or rejection of the Sony ruling; rather the Court based their opinion on a common law principle which, they held, was not preempted by the holding in Sony. The “inducement” to infringe copyright, although not a completely novel cause of action, has been perceived by some commentators to introduce a change in the legal landscape of secondary liability for copyright infringement. In this article, we provide an extensive exposition of the Court’s decision and discuss the disposition of the decision including the implication of the two concurring opinions. We also speculate on the impact that the Court’s decision will have on the technology sector and on technological innovation in particular. Ultimately, we grapple with new questions which the decision has presented for industry and the continued existence of peer-to-peer file-sharing.

Regulating Search? Call for a Second Look


Here is my second position paper (find the first one here) in preparation of the upcoming Regulating Search? conference at ISP Yale. It provides a rough arc of a paper I will write together with my friend and colleague Ivan Reidel. The Yale conference on search has led to great discussions on this side of the Atlantic. Thanks to the FIR team, esp. Herbert Burkert and James Thurman, Mike McGuire, and to Sacha Wunsch-Vincent for continuing debate.

Regulating Search? Call for a Second Look

1. The use of search engines has become almost as important as email as a primary online activity on any given day, according to a recent PEW survey. According to an another survey, 87% of search engine users state that they have successful search experiences most of the time, while 68% of users say that search engines are a fair and unbiased source of information. This data combined with the fact that the Internet, among very experienced users, ranks even higher than TV, radio and newspapers as an important source of information, illustrates the enormous importance of search engines from a demand-side perspective, both in terms of actual information practices as well as with regard to users’ psychological acceptance.

2. The data also suggests that the transition from an analog/offline to a digital/online information environment has been accompanied by the emergence of new intermediaries. While traditional intermediaries between senders and receivers of information—most of them related to the production and dissemination of information (e.g. editorial boards, TV production centers, etc.)—have diminished, new ones such as search engines have entered the arena. Arguably, search engines have become the primary gatekeepers in the digitally networked environment. In fact, they can effectively control access to information by deciding about the listing of any given website in search results. But search engines not only shape the flow of digital information by controlling access; rather, search engines at least indirectly engage in the construction of the messages or meaning by shaping the categories and concepts users’ use to search the Internet. In other words, search engines have the power to influence agenda setting.

3. The power of search engines in the digitally networked environment with corresponding misuse scenarios is likely to increasingly attract policy- and lawmakers attention. However, it is important to note that search engines are not unregulated under the current regime. Markets for search engines regulate their behavior, although the regulatory effects of competition might be relatively weak because the search engine market is rather concentrated and centralized; a recent global user survey suggests that Google’s global usage share has reached 57.2%. In addition, not all search engines use their own technology. Instead, they rely on other search providers for listings. However, search engines are also regulated by existing law and regulations, including consumer protection laws, copyright law, unfair competition laws, and—at the intersection of market-based regulation and law-based regulation—antitrust law or (in the European terminology) competition law.

4. Against this backdrop, the initial question for policymakers then must concern the extent to which existing laws and regulations may feasibly address potential regulatory problems that emerge from search engines in the online environment. Only where existing legislation and regulation fails due to inadequacy, enforcement issues, or the like, the question of new, specific and narrowly tailored regulation should be considered. In order to analyze existing laws and regulation with regard to their ability to manage problems associated with search engines, one might be well-advised to take a case-by-case approach, looking at each concrete problem or emerging regulatory issue (“scenario”) on the one hand and discussion relevant to incumbent legal/regulatory mechanisms aimed at addressing conflicts of that sort on the other hand.

5. Antitrust law might serve as an illustration of such an approach. While the case law on unilateral refusals to deal is still one of the most problematic and contested areas in current antritrust analysis, the emergence of litigation applying this analytical framework to search engines seems very likely. Although most firms’ unilateral refusals to deal with other firms are generally regarded as legal, a firm’s refusal to deal with competitors can give rise to anti-trust liability if such firm possesses monopoly power and the refusal is part of a scheme designed to maintain or achieve further monopoly power. In the past, successful competitors like Aspen Skiing Co. and more recently Microsoft have been forced to collaborate with competitors and punished for actions that smaller companies could have probably gotten away with. In this sense, search engines might be the next arena where antitrust laws with regard to unilateral refusals to deal are tested. In addition to the scenario just described, the question arises as to whether search engines could be held liable for refusal to include particular businesses in their listings. Where a market giant such as Google has a “don’t be evil” policy and declines from featuring certain sites in its PageRank results because it deems these sites to be “evil,” there is an issue of whether Google is essentially shutting that site provider out of the online market through the exercise of its own position in the market for information. Likewise, the refusal to include certain books in the Google Print project would present troubling censorship-like issues. It is also important to note that Google’s editorial discretion with regard to its PageRank results was deemed to be protected by the First Amendment in the SearchKing case.

6. In conclusion, this paper suggests a cautious approach to rapid legislation and regulation of search engines. It is one of the lessons learned that one should not overestimate the need for new law to deal with apparently new phenomena emerging from new technologies. Rather, policy- and lawmakers would be well-advised to carefully evaluate the extent to which general and existing laws may address regulatory problems related to search and which issues exactly call for additional, specific legislation.

New Berkman Report on Digital Media Industry


The Berkman Center’s Digital Media Project team has released an in-depth analysis of the impacts of policy choises on emerging business models in the music and film industries. Here’s the link to the paper and the abstract:

Content and Control: Assessing the Impact of Policy Choices on Potential Online Business Models in the Music and Film Industries

The online environment and new digital technologies threaten the viability of the music and film industries’ traditional business models. The industries have responded by seeking government intervention, among other means, to protect their traditional models as well as by developing new models specifically adapted to the online market. Industry activity and public debate have focused on three key policy areas related to copyright holders’ control of content: technical interference with and potential liability of P2P services; copyright infringers’ civil and criminal liability; and legal reinforcement of digital rights management technologies (DRM).

This paper seeks to support policymakers’ decision making by delineating the potential consequences of policy actions in these areas. To do so, it assesses how such action would impact relevant social values and four business models representative of current and emerging attempts to generate viable revenues from digital media. The authors caution that government intervention is currently premature because it is unlikely to strike an appropriate balance between achieving industry goals while supporting other social values, such as consumer rights, the diversity of available content, and technological innovation.

Special thanks — and congratulations — to Derek Slater and Meg Smith of the Berkman team for their work.

Palfrey on Cyberlaw & Digital Media


Berkman Center’s Executive Director John Palfrey lectured earlier today at Cornell’s University Computer Policy and Law Program. In the first session, he made a strong case why, in fact, it makes sense to teach “cyberlaw” rather than the “law of the horse”. John started with an analysis of three contemporary legal and regulatory issues that are Internet-specific: Spam, the digital media crises, and VoIP. From there, he moved to a more abstract level and discussed some of the basic characteristics – phenomena such as large-scale infringements, uncertainty surrounding the applicability of traditional legal doctrines such as fair use, high costs of enforcement and coordination, and global reach of the medium, among others – which make the law of the Internet (at least in part) different from other areas of law. John also used variations on Lessig’s theme of the four modalities of regulation to illustrate what makes Internet law special.

In the second lecture, John Palfrey offered a thoughtful and comprehensive overview of the current digital media crisis. Starting with the Napster saga, he moved forward to the current state of affairs, discussing from a comparative law perspective, among other things, the Berkman Center’s iTunes case study and recent case law at the intersection of copyright and contract law as well as technological protection measures. Finally, John discussed possible scenarios for the future of digital media.

Both lectures provide a great opportunity to get an expert’s overview where cyberlaw stands and what some of today’s hottest topics are; highly recommended, also to the audience abroad. And even if you are a scholar working in the same field, you’ll enjoy Palfrey’s presentation, since it’s one of the increasingly rare occasions to re-think some of the fundamental assumptions and concepts of cyberlaw. Thanks, John!

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