The importance of patents- Global Tech chief to deliver lecture at March 9 event

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Few would argue the fact that Abraham Lincoln was a respected and distinguished gentleman. So it should come as no surprise that William J. Coughlin would draw from Lincoln's quote file in giving his own lecture on intellectual property and innovation law.

Just call it a gift from one distinguished lecturer to another.

Coughlin, president and CEO of Ford Global Technologies, will present the 2011 Distinguished Lecture for the Cooley Law School Graduate Program in IP Law on Wednesday, March 9. The event, at Cooley's Auburn Hills campus, 2630 Featherstone Road, will begin at 5:30 with a registration, followed at 6 p.m. with Coughlin's lecture, titled "Innovation and Patents: Keeping the 'Fire of Genius' Burning Through the Next Decade."

Professor David C. Berry, director of Cooley's Graduate Program in IP Law, said the Distinguished Lecture series began several years ago, and in the past has dealt with tax, copyright issues, and other matters.

"But this year we decided to focus on innovation, and how technology helps companies and industries adapt to changing economic times," Berry said. "We're trying to make the connection between IP and technology and economic development."

While the Distinguished Lecture program has used national experts in the past, Berry said this is the first time a local leader has been chosen. He said Coughlin has helped Ford become a leader in technology over the past few years.

"And (Coughlin) is also a very clear thinker on how IP affects innovation, and what has to be done over the next 10 years to make sure that the laws continue to encourage and support companies that are innovating."

IP and innovation are broad fields, Berry said, but connected to law in special ways. It's how companies protect propriety information that allows it to be competitive locally, nationally and globally, and maintain that competitive edge, he said. And that has never been more important than now, in Michigan, he said, to the businesses and the lawyers who represent those businesses.

Clearly, Coughlin has a handle on this, as demonstrated by his background and achievements. At Ford Global Technologies, he's responsible for managing all IP matters of Ford across all brands on a global basis, including patents, trademarks, corporate identity, copyrights, trade secrets, licensing, government research and development contracts. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and the Detroit College of Law, Coughlin was President of DaimlerChrysler Intellectual Capital Corp. and the director of IP-Legal for DaimlerChrysler worldwide. Besides membership in professional IP organizations, he is also an adjunct professor in Cooley's graduate IP program.

"Few people really 'get' intellectual property, particularly patent law," Coughlin said.

One who did was Lincoln, who, in 1858, called patent law a facilitator of other important inventions and discoveries, he said. One of Lincoln's own inventions -- a method to buoy vessels over shoals -- stands on display today at the Smithsonian, Coughlin said.

But Coughlin said too many people now believe that "patents are either unnecessary to motivate invention, or that patents actually hinder innovation." And his address at the program will focus on keeping the fuel of interest to the fire of genius burning.

Coughlin said the rights of IP, granted in the Constitution, are being questioned "at a time when our country needs innovation more than ever." And in his talk, Coughlin likely will address what government, business and law students should do "to ensure that we have the best environment on Earth for inventing the future."

Berry said he expects up to 100 people to attend the Distinguished Lecture, including attorneys, business and law school students and others. The public is also welcome to attend the free event. A reception will follow, but those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by March 7 to Vanessa Ramakers, ramakerv@cooley.edu.

Berry said there is currently a national debate centering on substantial changes to the patent law.

"My hope is that people come away with a better appreciation on how patents affect companies, how it affects that research, and how companies, especially those that are local, can compete globally," Berry said.

He said Coughlin's talk should be enlightening.

"He's thought a lot about what the laws, and the legal system, can do to encourage companies to invest in technology," Berry said.

Published: Thu, Mar 3, 2011

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