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April 04, 2011


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

Strictly speaking, it's not indicative or representative of "interdisciplinarity" or "cross-disciplinarity" until or unless Professor Seymore's scholarly work connects the dots between chemistry and the law. Therefore we might rather applaud this as a remarkable example of "poly- or multi-disciplinarity."

Patrick S. O'Donnell

After reading Professor Seymore's biography and learning about his background in patent law, it certainly appears he's capable of doing interdisciplinary work that connects his two fields of expertise and I did not mean to insinuate otherwise. However, his CV lists a division of intellectual labor between his work in patent law and his publications in chemistry. All the same, it notes a presentation to the University of Tennessee's Department of Chemistry on "Chemical Patent Law."


Anyone who knows Professor Seymore and his scholarship will appreciate that he is doing something incredibly unique -- namely he is bridging the gap between the hard sciences (such as chemistry) and law. This is not just about a degree (although Professor Seymore is a JD / PhD in Chemistry who is also unique in that he was a faculty member in Chemistry before choosing to go to law school precisely so that he could bridge the interdisciplinary gap). This is also not just about the title of his talks - or his numerous articles that appear in places including the Duke Law Journal, Notre Dame Law Review, North Carolina Law Review and UCLA Law Review. If one delves into the actual substance of those articles or ever sees Professor Seymore present, one will see a unifying theme in his scholarship that is truly interdisciplinary -- namely his work is about the thoughtful and careful consideration of science, innovation and the insights for the meaning of invention. It is precisely those insights -- derived from hard sciences and careful, methodical scientific approaches -- that is making inroads into the meaning of how we construe doctrine and legal constructs, precisely such as those like patent law. That is both innovative and interdisciplinary.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Oh my goodness, insights derived from the "hard sciences and careful, methodical scientific approaches:" the shrill cry of academic orgasm.

Orin Kerr

I have a graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, but I've struggled to see any particularly interesting intersection with law. I congratulate Professor Seymore for being able to blend his interests between law and the hard sciences: I've never figured out a real way to do that (at least beyond getting a basic idea of technologies I write on, which isn't really that hard).

Patrick S. O'Donnell

There are obvious connections between the post-academic, natural sciences and “the law” in the post-industrialist capitalist era insofar as we characterize the former (with the late John Ziman) as, among other things, Proprietary, Authoritarian, Commissioned, and Expert. There are clear connections between the sciences and the technologies closely associated with them inasmuch as these sciences are harnessed to addressing (even ‘solving’) technological, environmental, medical or societal problems. The political warrant for the sciences as currently constituted finds them “being pressed into the service of the nation as the driving force in the national R & D system, a wealth-creating techno-scientific motor for the whole economy.” Law is integrally bound up, and invariably sanctions such socio-economic wealth-creation, be it through the patent system, intellectual property law, environmental law, “science policy,” and so on.

Law has long been associated with imperatives derived from utility and the marketplace, and science today is, in general, fueled by such imperatives. When post-industrial R & D or “applied science” makes up the greater part of scientific activity, law appears, so to speak, at points ex ante, in medias res, and ex post in the process.

Technoscience is unimaginable without “the law.” Law has helped shape the ubiquitous proprietorial attitude toward the results of scientific research. And when the “context of application” for scientific research is largely definded by material bodies outside science proper, law is bound to have a facilitating, structuring, and mediating role betwixt and between scientific researchers and these material bodies in the marketplace, especially when these researchers are members of goups with the appearance and function of small business enterprises.

As Richard C. Lewontin reminds us in Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA (1991), science is “guided by and directed by those forces in the world that have control over money and time.” Symptomatic of such control is Lewontin’s anecdotal yet generalizable observation that “No prominent molecular biologist of my acquaintance is without a financial stake in the biotechnology business.” Ziman explains how deeply this new ethos has been inscribed in the practice of scientific research:

“[A]s researchers become more dependent on project grants, the ‘Matthew Effect’ is enhanced. Competition for real money takes precedence over competition for scientific credibility as the driving force of science. With so many researchers relying completely on research grants or contracts for their personal livelihood, winning these become an end in itself. Research groups are transformed into small business enterprises. The metaphorical forum of scientific opinion is turned into an actual market in research sciences.”

There’s much grist for the legal mill in such a world.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

erratum: "Law is integrally bound up with, and invariably sanctions...."

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