Archive for the 'law and economics' Category

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

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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, Behavior, and the Brain Conference

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I’m currently on my way to far-away Olympic Valley, CA, where I have the great pleasure to attend the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research Conference on Law, Behavior, and the Brain. The conference, led by Monika Gruter Cheney, brings together a terrific interdisciplinary group of roughly 40 experts in areas such as evolutionary biology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, and – yes – also a number of legal scholars. During four days, we will be exploring topics such as “State of Play: Law, Behavioral Biology and Neuroscience,” “Rationality, Emotions and Moral Judgments in Humans and Other Species,” “Property and Economics,” and “Results in Neuroeconomics and Experimental Economics,” to list just a few sessions. I’m much looking forward to learning from all conference contributors, including Paul Zak, Carl Bergstrom, Kevin McCabe, John Clippinger, Bruce Hay, Oliver Goodenough, Susan Bandes, Larry Frolik, Sara Beale, Terry Maroney, among many others.

Here are the abstracts of my contributions to the conference:

1) Panel on Law & Emotions

A recent interdisciplinary conference in Switzerland was dedicated to law & emotion scholarship. In my brief presentation, I would like to answer the apparently trivial question asked by a conference participant: “Given the fact that it isn’t that much of a surprise that even judges, prosecutors, etc. have emotions, and that therefore emotions play a role in decision-making processes with legal relevance, what’s really the contribution of law & emotion research and scholarship? What’s new about it?”. I will try to answer this question in a systematic way, arguing that law & emotion research has (or might have) an impact on (at least) two levels, each consisting of two elements: the analytical level with the elements “phenomenon (stipulated facts)” and “legal actors”, and the design level with “norms applicable to the facts of the case” and “norms governing the production of law.” I will use a few stories – ranging from file-sharing to the U.S. Patriot Act – to illustrate these points.

2) Presentation on Digital Institutions / Social Signaling Theory

Social signals play an important role in defining social relations and structuring societies, both in the on- and offline world. In my presentation, I will focus on the role of social signaling in the digitally networked environment. More precisely, I will explore the promises and limitations of social signaling theory as applied to cyberspace, including digital institutions. In essence, I will address three questions: First, in what online contexts do we have an interest in signal reliability and honest signaling? Second, what are regulatory strategies and approaches (using Lessig’s framework of four modes of regulation) to increase the reliability of social signals? And third, who will make the decisions about the degrees of required signal reliability in cyberspace?

3) New Insights into Property Panel

My last year’s presentation focused on a new generation of neuro-science-informed arguments aimed at explaining large-scale file-sharing over P2P networks. This year, my contribution to the property panel will not focus on the explanation of a presumably illegal activity, but on a socially desirable one: In my talk entitled “Social economics of collaborative creativity”, I will provide a brief overview of the literature that seeks to explain why thousand of volunteers work together in lose-knit networks to peer-produce an online encyclopedia (Wikipedia), to come up with improved versions of an open-source web browser (e.g. Mozilla), or create shared open content platforms, to name just three examples. The presentation ends with the outline of a research agenda.

Promises and Limits of a Law and Economics Approach to IPR in Cyberage

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Over the past few weeks, our graduate students at the Univ. of St. Gallen have done quite some heavy lifting in the three courses that I described here. In my own course on law and economics of intellectual property rights in the digital age, we’ve completed the second part of the course, which consisted of three modules dealing with digital copyright, software and biz methods patents, and trademarks/domain name disputes. We were very fortunate to have the support of three wonderful guest lecturers. Professor John Palfrey taught a terrific class on digital media law and policy (find here his debriefing and putting-into-context). Klaus Schubert, partner with WilmerHale, provided an excellent overview of the current state of software patenting in and across the EU, in the U.S., and Japan and made us think about the hard policy questions up for discussion. Last week, Professor Philippe Gillieron from the Univ. of Lausanne discussed with us the legal and economic aspects of domain name disputes and ways to solve them (the focus was on UDRP – in my view a particularly interesting topic when analyzed through the lens of new institutional economics theory, see also here for variations on this theme.)

In the last session before “flyout” week, Silke Ernst and I had a first cut at a synthesis aimed at tying together several of the core themes we’ve been discussing so far. At the core of the session was the question as to what extent the law & economics approach can help us to deal with the complex IPR-questions that are triggered while transitioning from an analog/offline to a digital/online information environment. The students contributed to the session by presenting their views on the promises of and limits on a law & economics approach to IPR in the digital age. Using the time while traveling from Oxford back to Zurich, my recollection of the in-class discussion looks as follows (alternative interpretations, of course, encouraged and welcome) – starting with the argument that the law & economics approach to IPR serves at least two functions:

  • On the one hand, it provides a toolset that helps us to frame, analyze, and evaluate some of the complex phenomena we observe in cyberspace (such as, for instance, large-scale file-sharing over P2P networks or the user-created content), and enables us to gain a better understanding of the interaction among existing rules and norms and these phenomena. We might want to call it the “analytical function” of law & economics (this aspect gets close to – but is in my view not exactly identical with – what has traditionally been described as the “positive” strand of discussion in law & economics.)
  • On the other hand, law & economics may guide us at the design level (again, this gets close to what has been termed “normative” law & economics. For reasons I don’t want to discuss here, I don’t want to work with this distinction in the present context.). First, it can help us to identify the need for law reform by showing that the existing rules have a negative impact on social welfare. Here, the design function intersects with the previously mentioned analytical function. Second, law & economics provides a consistent framework to evaluate the impact of alternative means of regulation on the (economic) behavior of individuals and compare costs and benefits of different approaches aimed at solving a particular problem.

At a more granular level, we might identify the following promises and limitations of a law & economics approach with regard to the respective functionality:
Analytical function

  • Promises: coherent framework, consistent and shared set of criteria, rational and quasi-objective analysis, …
  • Limitations: Bounded rationality/areas of non-rationale behavior, lack of transparency regarding underlying causalities, limited possibilities to quantify phenomena, lack of empirical data, …

Design function:

  • Promises: Cost-benefits analysis of alternative policy choices, taking into account perspectives of different actors in an ecosystem, at least ideal-type predictions based on models, …
  • Limitations: Complexity of real-life situations, non-economic perspectives, motives, and effects, non-economic values, …

We reached some sort of consensus that the law & economics approach indeed provides a great toolset to analyze at least some of the trickiest IPR-related policy questions in cyberspace. However, the large majority seemed also to agree that some of the limitations of such an analysis become particularly visible in the digitally networked environment with phenomena such as commons-based peer production of content based on intrinsic motivations. Most of us also agreed that it would be dangerous to attempt to answer the IPR policy questions only against the backdrop of law & economics theory. Indeed, many of the decisions to be made in this space ultimately include choices about core values of our society that do not easily translate into the frameworks of law & economics, like for example informational justice, equal access, participatory culture, or semiotic democracy.

I’m very much looking forward to continuing the discussion about the role of law and economics in the digital age with my colleagues, the teaching team, and – most importantly – with the wonderful group of students enrolled in this seminar.

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

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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!

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