Former General Counsel for Facebook, Ted Ulyot, came to the Law School last week to discuss how patents and intellectual property are viewed in Silicon Valley.
The talk, titled “Innovation, Disruption and Intellectual Property: A View from Silicon Valley,” focused on the case study of a lawsuit between Facebook and Yahoo. Around 50 Law School alumni and students attended.
“The relationship between intellectual property law and today’s Silicon Valley innovators and technologists is complicated,” Ullyot said.
Ullyot then explained that Yahoo sued Facebook for infringing on patents for web advertisement right before the company was about to go public. He said this upset Silicon Valley technologists because they believed it hindered innovation. Technologists sided with Facebook and sent out unsolicited support for the company and the freedom to innovate.
He also discussed how IP laws are abused and how software engineers don’t necessarily like patents because they can hinder innovation. He said collaboration leads to better innovation.
IP laws are defined by the American Intellectual Property Law Association as rights to property from the “the fruit of mental labor.”
“Technological advancement is more likely to grow from sharing and collaborations rather than buying the exclusive rights in the paradigm of intellectual property rights,” Ullyot said. “The fundamental purpose of IP law, after all, is to promote innovation.”
The Apple versus Android debate was also discussed in terms of who dominates the smartphone and tablet market. Ullyot said Android is beating Apple in the markets because it is open while Apple is closed. This means that people from all around the world can tweak Android applications and design them to be more efficient, while Apple does not allow that.
“There’s a growing stance among many engineers that innovation is best promoted not by the promise of exclusive rights and reaping in the benefits of one’s invention but rather by sharing,” Ullyot said. “As lawyers, we can all be proud that the role law has played in the innovative culture of the Silicon Valley.”
Ullyot was a former law clerk for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He now works at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
“The American technology sector centered in and around Silicon Valley stands today as a celebrated leader in innovation, disruption and economic progress,” Ullyot said.