Laura Pedraza-Fariña

What incentives would foster more collaboration between the law and STEM fields, in either academic or business/entrepreneurial settings?

An important concern for intellectual property law scholars is understanding how innovation incentives, and patents in particular, impact research carried out in academic and industry laboratories. Despite the importance of analyzing the impact of patents on basic and applied research, interviews with basic and applied research scientists at universities suggest that the research concerns of patent law scholars are removed from the concerns of many scientists.[1] Patent law theory traditionally views patents as incentives to invest in risky projects or as incentives to move research from the bench to the marketplace. But interviews with research scientists reveal that research scientists tend to value patents not for their incentive or translational functions, but rather for their attributional functions.[2] The weak incentive effect of patents on innovation at universities is in many ways unsurprising—other incentive systems, including grants, reputational incentives, and background social norms, play more prominent roles. But the richness of this innovation ecosystem also suggests that legal scholars should broaden their focus beyond patent law to also include how social norms, grant-making institutions, and university intellectual infrastructures interact with each other to foster or impede innovation. Two trends in current legal scholarship are moving in this direction. The first trend is apparent in the growth of studies that complement traditional economic analyses of innovation with sociological and psychological analyses. Taken together with economic analyses, these studies can better identify the complex set of barriers and inducements to innovation.[3] The second trend is apparent in the development of what may be called “innovation law” that broadens scholarly pursuits beyond intellectual property law. Scholarly articles in this new field contribute to a better understanding of the effect of legal and policy interventions on science-based innovation by including the study of social norms, prizes, tax and grant policies, administrative agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, and the interactions among all of these policy levers, as part of a broader innovation ecosystem.[4]

Provide an example of a situation in which a Law–STEM collaboration aided a project or where the lack of collaboration between these two disciplines impeded a project.

Much of the knowledge and skills necessary to address pressing, complex technological problems are often divided in different scientific or technological communities that have few or no ties with each other. The social costs of this division are very large: many innovations considered “breakthroughs” in a given field (those that overturn existing paradigms or open new lines of research) emerge from the work of teams that combine divergent perspectives from multiple communities.[5] A poignant example concerns research into the effects of cancer treatment on fertility. As cancer treatments become more sophisticated and effective, the number of cancer survivors—and childhood cancer survivors in particular—has increased worldwide. But until recently, research on the impact of cancer therapeutics on male and female fertility, as well as research on fertility preservation techniques for females, lagged severely behind the advances in treatment. This was the case despite studies showing that cancer patients ranked fears of losing their fertility second only to those of facing death. One fundamental reason for this disconnect between the needs of cancer patients and the priorities of research and treatment was the lack of communication and collaboration between oncologists and reproductive endocrinologists. The goal of oncologists was to understand, treat, and, when possible, cure cancer. The goal of endocrinologists was to address infertility. And their paths seldom crossed.[6]

In this particular case, a specific policy intervention bridged the gap between these two communities: the Roadmap Interdisciplinary Research Consortia Grant through the National Institutes of Health. Roadmap Grants were designed to address the puzzle of complex diseases that defy solution by any one scientific community. The Roadmap Grant enabled the creation of the Oncofertility Consortium—through which communities of endocrinologists and oncologists began collaborating with each other and with communities of engineers and cryobiologists. As a result of this collaboration, researchers developed a new bioengineered matrix to grow eggs outside the body[7] and a new technique to test the effects of cancer drugs on fertility.[8] Importantly, researchers continued collaborating long after grant funding expired. In other words, the Roadmap Grant acted as a catalyst to collaboration—providing short-term, seed funding and infrastructure support that enabled cross-disciplinary connections.

Laura Pedraza-Fariña joined the Northwestern faculty in 2013 as an Assistant Professor of Law.  She is also a faculty affiliate of the Science in Human Culture Program at Northwestern.  She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and her Ph.D. in genetics from Yale University.  Her research interests include intellectual property, patent law, and international organizations.  Her scholarship on intellectual property law uses the methodology of history and sociology of science and technology to analyze and inform the design of patent law.

  1. See, e.g., Laura G. Pedraza-Fariña, Constructing Interdisciplinary Collaboration: The Oncofertility Consortium as a Constructed Knowledge Commons, in Governing Medical Knowledge Commons (Katherine Strandburg, Brett Frischmann & Michael Madison eds., 2017); Jessica Silbey, The Eureka Myth: Creators, Innovators and Everyday Intellectual Property (2016); Brian J. Love, Do University Patents Pay Off? Evidence from a Survey of University Inventors in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, 16 Yale J.L. & Tech. 285 (2014).
  2. Id.
  3. See, e.g., Stephanie P. Bair, The Psychology of Patent Protection, 48 Conn. L. Rev. 297 (2015); Jeanne Fromer, Expressive Incentives in Intellectual Property, 98 Va. L. Rev. 1745 (2012); Jeanne Fromer, A Psychology of Intellectual Property, 104 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1441 (2010); Eric E. Johnson, Intellectual Property and the Incentive Fallacy, 39 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 623 (2012); Gregory N. Mandel, To Promote the Creative Process: Intellectual Property Law and the Psychology of Creativity, 86 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1999 (2011); Laura Pedraza-Fariña, Patent Law and the Sociology of Innovation, 2013 Wis. L. Rev. 813 (2013); Laura G. Pedraza-Fariña, The Social Origins of Innovation Failures, 70 S.M.U. L. Rev. 377 (2017); R. Keith Sawyer, The Western Cultural Model of Creativity: Its Influence on Intellectual Property Law, 86 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2027 (2011).
  4. See, e.g., Dan L. Burk, On the Sociology of Patenting, 101 Minn. L. Rev. 421 (2016); Julie Cohen, Property as Institutions for Resources: Lessons from and for IP, 94 Tex. L. Rev. 1 (2015); Rebecca S. Eisenberg & W. Nicholson Price II, Promoting Healthcare Innovation on the Demand Side, 4 J.L. & Biosciences 3 (2017); Daniel J. Hemel & Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Beyond the Patents–Prizes Debate, 92 Tex. L. Rev. 303 (2013); William Hubbard, Inventing Norms, 44 Conn. L. Rev. 369 (2011); Michael J. Madison, Brett Frischmann & Katherine J. Strandburg, Constructing Commons in the Cultural Environment, 95 Cornell L. Rev. 657 (2010).
  5. See, e.g., Laura G. Pedraza-Fariña, Patent Law and the Sociology of Innovation, 2013 Wis. L. Rev. 813 (2013); Laura G. Pedraza-Fariña, The Social Origins of Innovation Failures, 70 S.M.U. L. Rev. 377 (2017).
  6. For a fuller description of the problem of oncofertility and the emergence of the Oncofertility Consortium, see Laura G. Pedraza-Fariña, Constructing Interdisciplinary Collaboration: The Oncofertility Consortium as a Constructed Knowledge Commons, in Governing Medical Knowledge Commons (Katherine Strandburg, Brett Frischmann & Michael Madison eds., 2017).
  7. See, e.g., Xu M, Teresa K. Woodruff & Lonnie D. Shea, Bioengineering and the Ovarian Follicle, in Oncofertility: Fertility Preservation for Cancer Survivors 75 (T.K. Woodruff & K.A. Snyder eds., 2007); Erin R. West et al., Physical Properties of Alginate Hydrogels and Their Effects on In Vitro Follicle Development, 28 Biomaterials 4439 (2007); Ming Xu et al., Tissue-Engineered Follicles Produce Live, Fertile Offspring, 12 Tissue Engineering 2739 (2006).
  8. Richard W. Ahn et al., Nano-Encapsulation of Arsenic Trioxide Enhances Efficacy Against Murine Lymphoma Model While Minimizing Its Impact on Ovarian Reserve In Vitro and In Vivo, PLoS ONE, March 20, 2013 [].