Alex Dingman wrote:
LAWRENCE — University of Kansas School of Law experts in Indian law and trademark law are available to discuss today’s U.S. Patent & Trademark Office ruling that cancels the Washington Redskins trademark registration, calling the football team’s name “disparaging to Native Americans.” Elizabeth Kronk Warner, associate professor of law and director of KU’s Tribal Law & Government Center, can discuss the ruling itself and related efforts to eradicate the name and mascot. Andrew Torrance, professor of law, can discuss all aspects of the ruling.
To schedule an interview, contact Mindie Paget at email@example.com or (785) 864-9205.
BIOGRAPHIES: Elizabeth Kronk Warner is a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and serves as an appellate judge for the tribe’s appeals court in Michigan. In 2012, she joined the faculty at KU Law, where she teaches courses in federal Indian law, Native American natural resources and property. Before entering academia, Warner practiced environmental, Indian and energy law in Washington, D.C. She previously served as chair of the Federal Bar Association Indian Law Section and was elected to the Association’s national board of directors in 2011. She received her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School and her bachelor’s from Cornell University.
Andrew Torrance speaks frequently with the media on topics and cases in patent, trademark, copyright, trade secrecy and Internet law. A visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a fellow of the Gruter Institute, Torrance has delivered more than 100 scholarly presentations at universities, research organizations, governments, and intergovernmental agencies in seven countries. Before joining the KU Law faculty in 2005, Torrance practiced biotechnology patent law at Fish & Richardson PC, the world’s largest intellectual property law firm, and served as in-house patent counsel at Inverness Medical Innovations and Stirling Medical Innovations. He received his doctorate from Harvard University, his law degree from Harvard Law School and his bachelor’s from Queen’s University, Canada.
LAWRENCE — When the first widespread computer virus was born, government didn’t shut down all computer science research. Similarly, now that synthetic biology, a field of science that uses standardized pieces of DNA to build new life forms, medications, industrial processes and biological systems, is growing rapidly, it should not be overregulated at the cost of future innovations, a University of Kansas law professor says.
Andrew Torrance, professor of law and Docking Faculty Scholar, has co-authored a new study on synthetic biology, intellectual property and the standards that govern the field with Linda Kahl of the BioBricks Foundation, the leading synthetic biology institution. It has been published in the Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal, and it is based on a 2012 study Torrance was commissioned by the National Academies to prepare.
Synthetic biology is being used to design new medications to fight malaria, is developing radically new technologies such as a television in which yeast cells genetically engineered to bioluminesce act as the television’s pixels, produce biological computers and create living organisms from raw organic chemicals. Yet there is also concern that this “dual use” technology could be used with malicious intent to design new forms of disease pathogens or that there could be accidents.
“From its founding the synthetic biology community has been concerned about ensuring safety, health and ethical practices,” said Torrance, who holds a doctorate in biology from Harvard. “The community has explicitly committed itself to uses of the technology that benefit humanity and avoidance of uses that could endanger public safety, especially those with nefarious purposes.”
In the study, Torrance and Kahl examine all of the proposed standards that have been proposed to regulate synthetic biology, including standards regarding structure, function and description of genetic components, data sharing, biosecurity and law. In fact, several years ago the BioBricks Foundation asked Torrance to contribute to the early drafting of a sort of “legal constitution” for synthetic biology, called the BioBricks Public Agreement, intended to ensure the safe and beneficial invention and use of standard biological parts.
Torrance and Kahl also consider the effects that intellectual property rights may have on encouraging or discouraging research in the burgeoning field. Like other areas of biotechnology, there is no federal statute specifically designed to govern synthetic biology. Instead, an influential regulation called the Coordinated Framework assigns agencies such as the FDA, EPA and USDA with shared responsibility for ensuring safe practices. One unique factor of synthetic biology is the degree to which its research community has engaged in careful self-regulation to keep the field open, democratic and safe, Torrance said. As the science progresses and the methods and raw materials of synthetic biology become ever more available, practicable and attractive to citizen biologists in the general public, Torrance expects that trend continuing.
“I see synthetic biology becoming further democratized — something that almost anyone with a modest biological background can become involved in,” Torrance said. “Just as software programming became a common and widespread skill in which millions of people now participate, programming DNA, designing new biological machines and constructing novel organisms is rapidly leaving the confines of professional laboratories and entering the home laboratories of citizen biotinkerers.”
However, as more people get involved in a field that builds new organisms and puts together building blocks of DNA, there is understandably a concern for accidents or misuse. The field has been very open in its dealings, even regularly working cooperatively with FBI agents specifically assigned to monitor the field. The field uses an open science ethos, arguing that its knowledge should be available to all, and that the more people who take part, the broader the knowledge base that can be built, and more potential there is both for beneficial discoveries and for detecting and preventing malicious uses.
There is also debate as to whether the field is a threat to traditional drug development companies and whether the ability to patent DNA can effectively prevent people outside of large corporations and major university research labs to take part. There are yet to be good answers to those questions, such as whether a fear of being sued will stifle innovation by individuals in the field, as the science is still only about a decade old. Torrance suggests that answers will come as evidence accumulates and legal conflicts multiply.
While there has yet to be an overwhelming push by policymakers or the public to write new laws or create new standards governing the field, the potential for accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl may exist.
“It is too early to know precisely what roles law will play in the development of synthetic biology and its innovations,” Torrance said. “However, since law will certainly influence the evolution of synthetic biology, it is vital to think carefully and strategically about constructive roles law should play in ensuring beneficial innovation, biosafety and sound ethical practices.
“As the field of synthetic biology explodes there will be an increasing number of success stories, but along with these, there will almost certainly be accidents, ethical breaches and malicious misuses. It is vitally important to create a legal framework that fosters the benefits of this technology while vigilantly guarding against bad behavior. It is exceedingly difficult to develop any new technology if you’re not willing to take some risks. The only way to eliminate risk entirely is to eliminate innovation. Wise laws can help assure that the great promise of synthetic biology is achieved at minimal risk.”
LAWRENCE — Stephen Ware, professor of law at the University of Kansas, is available to speak with media about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today on Executive Benefits Insurance Agency v. Arkison, 12-1200, a bankruptcy case relating to the Constitution’s requirement that some matters be decided by judges with life tenure, which bankruptcy judges lack.
Ware is an expert in bankruptcy law, judicial selection and alternative dispute resolution. His scholarship has been cited by the Supreme Court and in at least 20 other cases. He is the author of two books and more than 30 scholarly articles, and he has testified before both houses of Congress and in court as an expert witness. He has appeared several times on television and radio, and he has been quoted on bankruptcy law in The New York Times and other publications. He coaches the KU Law bankruptcy moot court team as well as teaching all of the law school's courses in bankruptcy and debtor-creditor law.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that although bankruptcy judges lack life tenure, they may rule on matters the Constitution otherwise reserved for life-tenured judges if the parties consent to the bankruptcy judge having that power or if the bankruptcy judge proposes a ruling and a life-tenured judge reviews that proposal anew. Ware can explain the ruling and comment on its implications.
Peter Hancock wrote,
"Sarah McLinn's defense lawyer plans to argue in court that she cannot be found guilty of first degree murder due to mental illness.
But legal experts say that will be a tough case to make in a Kansas court because of a 1995 law that abolished the so-called 'insanity defense' and replaced it with a much stricter standard.
'It's much harder for the defense,' said Kansas University law professor Melanie Wilson, who teaches criminal law."
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Tyler Kingkade takes on recent assertions from conservative commentators that the campus rape epidemic isn't an epidemic at all.
He wrote, "In research on police prosecution of sexual assaults, Corey Rayburn Yung, an associate law professor at the University of Kansas, concluded that nearly 1 in 4 police departments responsible for populations of at least 100,000 persons are undercounting rape reports."
LAWRENCE — When it comes to debt and bankruptcy, some things never change. While people are no longer imprisoned for failing to pay their debts as England did a century ago, a new article by a University of Kansas law professor shows that the key arguments about enforcing debts or relieving them in bankruptcy have changed very little since then.
Stephen Ware, professor of law, has authored “A 20th Century Debate About Imprisonment for Debt,” which explores the parliamentary debate in England circa 1909 about whether to continue imprisoning debtors and notes how current debates about consumer debt in the United States rest on some very similar arguments. The article will be published by the American Journal of Legal History.
“Many people who settled in the 13 colonies that became the United States were fleeing debts in England, so it’s no surprise that the U.S. ended debtors’ prisons long before England, which continued to use them well into the 20th century,” Ware said.
While the United States has done away with debtors’ prisons, many parallels exist today. For example, debtors who lose lawsuits can be ordered by courts to appear in person to answer questions about their income and assets. If debtors fail to appear at that time and place, they can be held in contempt of court, and an arrest warrant will be issued. The debtor can stop the arrest by agreeing to a payment plan, but if the debtor again misses payments, he or she may be arrested.
“While technically jailed for contempt of court, not the underlying debt, that distinction may be lost on a struggling debtor who cannot afford a lawyer to explain it and advocate for the debtor,” Ware said.
More fundamental parallels connect the England Ware studied with the United States of today. Then and now, when unpaid creditors win a lawsuit, they don’t actually receive money but simply have a legal document (judgment) stating they are owed money. In order to receive payment, some sort of additional pressure on the debtor is often required.
“But what types of pressure should the law permit, and when should debtors be relieved of that pressure by filing for bankruptcy? Those are the perennial questions,” said Ware, who has taught debt-collection and bankruptcy law for more than 15 years.
Today that pressure on judgment debtors often takes the form of wage garnishment. States have varying restrictions on how much, if any, of a person’s wages may be garnished, and there is a federal limit on how much can be withheld as well. Bankruptcy usually ends garnishment and other forms of debt-collection pressure, Ware said, so about 1 million debtors a year file for bankruptcy in the United States. Bankruptcy relief was much less generous in early 20th century England, according to Ware’s article.
In both 1909 England and the United States today, some argue that a typical debtor’s wages and assets should be protected from the collection efforts of creditors, especially those whose business practices seem designed to exploit unsophisticated or desperate borrowers. In contrast, the other side in this perennial debate argues that reducing the pressure on debtors to pay increases lenders’ losses from bad loans and thus makes them less likely to lend to borrowers who lack valuable collateral or strong payment histories.
“Easily available credit for low- and moderate-income borrowers was the key issue in England a century ago and is still central in today’s consumer debt and bankruptcy debates,” Ware said. “In every era, it seems, some argue that a plentiful supply of consumer credit lowers interest rates and helps people borrow in ways that improve their lives, while others argue that it tempts people to live beyond their means — with bad results not just for those debtors unable to pay but also for their families and society as a whole.”
These recurring issues appear in several of Ware’s classes, including bankruptcy and consumer law. While bankruptcy law focuses on relief for those unable to pay their debts, “consumer law generally tries to protect people from incurring too much debt — or the wrong kinds of debt — in the first place,” Ware said.
Consumer law is changing rapidly as a new federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, considers new regulations on several aspects of consumer credit agreements, including consumer arbitration, a topic on which Ware has testified before both houses of Congress and as an expert witness in court.
Consumer credit agreements are now influenced by far more complex regulation and technology than existed in the era of English debtors’ prisons, when credit was usually extended by a local merchant who knew the borrower personally. Today’s credit bureaus electronically track billions of transactions a year and assemble the data on each consumer in detailed reports available to lenders thousands of miles away who allow consumers to apply for credit online.
While more complex regulation and technology create new issues for lawyers, Ware emphasizes that the basic policy questions for lawmakers remain largely the same as they were generations ago.
“Usury law and other regulations of consumer credit agreements have been with us for centuries, and they raise very deep, timeless questions about human nature,” Ware said. “When are people suited to deciding for themselves which legally binding agreements to make, and when do they need lawmakers to restrict their choices so risky options are off the menu? And if lawmakers prohibit certain credit agreements as too risky, does that reduce bad loans or just drive them to a black market?”
Andy Marso wrote:
"Public attention in this year's Kansas secretary of state race has focused largely on voter registration and identification requirements spearheaded by Republican incumbent Kris Kobach.
But in addition to being the state's chief elections officer, the secretary of state also handles business filings, and Kobach and his Democratic challenger Jean Schodorf also are trying to burnish their credentials in that area."
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LAWRENCE — The Trans-Pacific Partnership has the potential to be the most economically and politically significant free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region, but it is being hindered by a nontransparent drafting process and perceptions of favoring American corporate interests over poverty alleviation, according to a new article by a University of Kansas international trade law expert.
Raj Bhala, associate dean for International and Comparative Law and Rice Distinguished Professor at the School of Law, has authored “Trans-Pacific Partnership or Trampling Poor Partners? A Tentative Critical Review.” The article was published in the Manchester Journal of International Economic Law the same week President Barack Obama toured Asia discussing the agreement and other issues. The piece, listed in three different top-10, most-downloaded Social Science Research Resources Network categories, outlines problems that have stalled adoption of the agreement among the United States and 11 other nations that account for 40 percent of global gross domestic product.
“I didn’t start out seeking to criticize this agreement. I needed to be familiar with it to write the new edition of my next textbook and stay current in the classroom when teaching my students,” Bhala said. “As I learned more I became more skeptical and had more concerns. It became clear we are thinking too much about the wealthy elite, that our trade policy is ever-more corporatized, and we are also hearing these concerns from some of our closest friends and allies abroad.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, commonly known as TPP, was conceived in 2006 among four nations and has since expanded to 12. It is part of a growing trend among the U.S. and many other members of the World Trade Organization to form free-trade agreements, especially given the failure of the Doha Round to yield a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced multilateral deal. The U.S. alone has free-trade agreements with 20 nations, Korea, Colombia and Panama being the most recent.
One of the primary problems with the TPP is the lack of transparency in its drafting, Bhala said. Draft texts of free-trade agreements are generally made available to journalists and the public. Just two of the 29 TPP chapters were made available to the public. Those sections, addressing environmental and intellectual property law, only became so when they were leaked to WikiLeaks. Bhala’s scholarship draws from journalistic coverage of the leaked sections and analyses of domestic and foreign legal, governmental and nongovernmental organizations directly familiar with TPP talks.
American involvement in TPP makes economic sense, but also is driven by a strategic shift in focus from the seemingly easily troubled Middle East to the dynamic, entrepreneurial Asia-Pacific region, Bhala said. That strategic shift also means, if TPP takes effect, solidifying economic and political alliances to help contain China, even though the administration prefers not to make that admission. It is reminiscent of agreements the U.S. had with Western European nations to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Even if China ultimately joins TPP, the U.S. and its allies already will have written rules on key issues of importance to China, such as duty-free, quota-free treatment for almost all traded goods, services sector liberalization, the behavior of state-owned enterprises and rules of origin for textiles and apparel merchandise. TPP then will be a “take it or leave it” proposition for China.
“Bluntly put, TPP and the pivot toward Asia is certainly justified by economic and demographic realities and projections. But the biggest reason is containing China,” Bhala said. “And setting rules of a big regional trade club before China joins, if it ever does, thus constraining it to play by those rules.”
However, in writing TPP rules, the U.S. and its trading partners have had profound disagreements. The perception is that American demands are simply too harsh, lack empathy and overtly favor American corporate interests over the most pressing matter in the Asia-Pacific region: poverty alleviation for those earning less than a dollar a day, and economic security for the fragile new middle class earning between $2 and $20 a day.
Two examples are opening Japanese agricultural markets to more imports from the U.S. and the sourcing of fabric for Vietnamese textiles, that country’s biggest industry. There are also disagreements on making Japanese markets more open to American cars and significant disputes on intellectual property. In the case of the latter, patents for pharmaceuticals, such as HIV/AIDS medications, are especially contentious. While American interests push for longer patent protection for medications, data exclusivity and so-called “evergreening,” Southeast Asian countries and NGOs argue that doing so only protects bloated corporations and stifles innovation while locals continue to die.
Those arguments are just a few of the problems holding up successful conclusion of TPP. Despite the differences among negotiating parties and political backlog in Washington, D.C., that has hampered American trade influence, Bhala believes there is still a good chance the parties will resolve their differences and finalize the free-trade agreement. That could be a boon not only to the nations involved in the agreement, but also to students in KU Law’s international trade courses. KU Law grads are practicing in 18 countries, including several Asian nations involved in TPP. The agreement could present many more opportunities for them, Bhala said.
“Essentially, this free-trade agreement is born of failure at the WTO level and the strategic shift to Asia,” Bhala said. “It’s bogged down by political gridlock in D.C., and a potpourri of disagreements on ancient issues such as farming and 21st century issues such as intellectual property, and the U.S. cannot bully its way to get a deal. I’m optimistic the U.S. will appreciate that sometimes helping our trading partners in the short term helps American in the long term.”
Karen Dillon and Keith King wrote:
Millions of dollars are missing following the failed purchase of two landmark buildings in downtown Kansas City.
Critics say a Ponzi Scheme drained the pockets of dozens of victims including local power brokers, retirees living on fixed incomes and those with life-threatening illnesses, an investigation by 41 Action News found.
At the center of the defunct deals is Brenda Wood, a business woman from Leavenworth County who owns a small janitorial service that cleans school buildings and other facilities.
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