Silicon Valley’s Challenge to Intellectual Property Law

Posted on Categories Intellectual Property Law, Public, Speakers at Marquette


Ted Ullyot titled his Helen Wilson Nies Lecture at Marquette Law School on Tuesday, “Innovation, Disruption, and Intellectual Property: A View from Silicon Valley.” He made it clear which two of those three elements are looked on favorably within that bastion of high-tech culture: innovation and disruption. That leaves one not looked on so favorably: intellectual property law, if you define that as protecting creative work through patents, copyrights, or trademarks.

Ullyot has gained great insight into what goes on between technological visionaries on one side and corporate lawyers on the other. From 2008 to 2013, he was general counsel of Facebook. That covered a period in which Facebook grew at an amazing pace, its stock went public, and it was sued by Yahoo! for patent infringement. Ullyot described the Yahoo! case in detail in his lecture, including the way that many of the leading figures in Silicon Valley who had no connection to Facebook were rubbed wrong by the Yahoo! suit because the culture of innovation was so oriented against asserting intellectual property rights.

The prevailing approach increasingly favors ”open source” approaches to intellectual property in which much of the code, together with other technical aspects of cutting edge work, is shared with anyone who wants it, at no cost. (Apple, which is notoriously secretive, is an exception.)

Since 2013, Ullyot has been a partner with Andreessen Horowitz, the leading venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, a position which continues to put him in a role to help shape what is emerging in the high-tech world.

Ullyot said computer engineers “tend to run away from patent lawyers.” He added, “It’s oil and water,” two different cultures when it comes to what to do with a business’s intellectual property. The engineers tend to think that intellectual property law stifles innovation.

That said, Ullyot added that there is still a role for intellectual property law. Venture capitalists and computer experts know that some core parts of their work need to be protected. He said the list of characteristics that have made Silicon Valley the global center of technological innovation includes “the rule of law.”

Before Ullyot became part of the Silicon Valley world, he served in major positions in Washington, including work as deputy staff secretary to President George W. Bush and chief of staff to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He also was in the corporate world and private practice.

Ullyot’s lecture may be viewed by clicking here.




One thought on “Silicon Valley’s Challenge to Intellectual Property Law”

  1. I’ve dealt with intellectual property issues in the past, so I found this post very insightful. I didn’t realize that computer engineers tend to run away from patent lawyers. I guess I can see how they would think that it could stifle innovation. Thanks for sharing this article.

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