Monday, April 16, 2012

Professor Bret Birdsong Explores the Legal Mechanics of the Modern Food System

The legal academy has paid relatively little attention to issues of broad popular concern about the modern food system, but UNLV Boyd School of Law Professor Bret Birdsong is working to change that. 

He is one of a group of legal scholars who are rethinking and redefining food law. 

In a forthcoming article, Birdsong argues that the field of Food Law must expand beyond the values of “safe” and “cheap.” He exhorts legal scholars to address the legal determinants of the food system from a broader array of perspectives and values. 

“There is an increasing understanding that food is not just some nicely wrapped bundle found on the supermarket shelf. It is a product of a long supply chain and of processes – from the farm to the factory – that have implications not just for eaters, but for workers, for wildlife, for the environment, even for foreign relations,” Birdsong said. 

The law, he added, should incorporate those broader values, and legal scholars should work to explore how the modern food system either serves or does not serve those values.

“My broader project,” he said, “is to look under the hood of the modern food system to see what legal machinery is there and to evaluate how that machinery makes the food system run. Once we know that, we can think about how to tinker with that machinery in order to steer the food system where we want it to go based on society’s modern values.” 

Food and farming have always been important industries, he explains, and a set of laws has long addressed the core issues that those industries face. As a result, statutes like the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act are pillars of progressive-era regulation and are aimed at ensuring a “safe” food supply. 

Similarly, New Deal programs aim to provide support and stability for the farm sector, largely to ensure that affordable food will be produced in plentiful amounts in the long run. Legal scholars to date have tended to think narrowly of “Food and Drug Law,” or “Food Safety Law,” or “Agricultural Law.”

In recent years, there has been a cornucopia of popular books and documentary films about food and food policy. 

Books like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation as well as films like Food, Inc. and Super Size Me have spawned new perspectives on how and what we eat and the consequences of our modern food system.  It is now commonly understood that what people eat affects not just their own health, but also the workers that produced the food, the environment and many other important values.

Birdsong presented his thoughts at the annual conference of the Association of American Law Schools and organized a group of papers for the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities conference held at the Boyd School of Law in March 2011.  He also will be participating in a workshop of food law scholars at the University of Colorado in June 2012.

“It is exciting to be part of an emerging group of legal scholars looking at food from different perspectives,” Birdsong said. 

He noted that he comes to food law as a scholar of environmental and natural resources law.  Other legal scholars approach food law with other areas of expertise, ranging from labor to intellectual property. 

Ordinarily, he said, legal scholars with such disparate interests might have little reason to exchange ideas. 

“But food is bringing us together.”

Professor Rachel Anderson Studies Law, Lawmaking and the Legal Profession in Nevada

In the past few years, UNLV Boyd School of Law Professor Rachel Anderson has been researching Nevada law, lawmaking and the legal community.

Her most recent publication, “Timeline of African-American Legal History in Nevada (1861-2011)” in the February issue of the Nevada Lawyer weaves together cases, statutes, events, community activism and the lives of individuals.

The “Timeline” illustrates developments in civil rights and the African-American legal community in Nevada.

“The numbers of African-American attorneys and judges in the state are small. So far, I have documented approximately 150 lawyers and 11 judges over the last 48 years,” Anderson said. “In 2010, African Americans made up 8 percent of Nevada’s population. Currently, African-American attorneys make up approximately 1 percent of the practicing attorneys and 2 percent of the judges in Nevada.”

Anderson applies theories developed by sociologist W.E.B. DuBois to frame her analysis of the relationship between Nevada law and social and economic development.

She is currently writing a law review article on the African-American legal community in Nevada, using the narratives of individuals to explore how laws affect communities, and individuals can contribute to lawmaking and social change.

As part of her work as the Secretary of the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Bar Association (LVNBA), Anderson was instrumental in creating the LVNBA Archive at the Wiener-Rogers Law Library in 2011.

The archive collects materials about the LVNBA and African-American attorneys in Nevada and is a resource for scholars, students and the general public. The archive houses a unique and growing collection of historically significant oral histories, documents and photographs relating to Nevada legal history.

In addition to her research on Nevada legal history, Anderson also writes in the areas of business and international law. She is currently writing a book review of Bishop and Zucker on Nevada Corporations and Limited Liability Companies and conducting research for an article examining the extent to which lawmaking can influence decision-making in corporate boardrooms.

Anderson’s research is integrated into her activities beyond the walls of the law school. In February 2012, she gave presentations at the law school and at Snell & Wilmer based on her research on the history of the African-American legal community in Nevada. She also moderated a Vegas PBS roundtable on the Early African-American Legal Community in Nevada.

Anderson is a member of the State Bar Law Related Education Consortium and serves as a person-at-large on the Executive Committee of the Business Section of the State Bar of Nevada.

In 2011, she was elected to the office of Vice President of the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Bar Association.

Anderson will be speaking at the 2012 Nevada Judicial Leadership Summit.

A graduate of Reed High School in Sparks, Anderson returned to Nevada in 2007 after practicing in the London office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

“I’m excited to apply the knowledge and experience I’ve gained to the challenges and opportunities here at home,” she said of returning to Nevada.

Professor Marketa Trimble Publishes on Cross-Border Legal Problems Affecting Intellectual Property Rights

UNLV Boyd School of Law Professor Marketa Trimble is publishing two major works in the first half of 2012 (one published, one forthcoming) that have arisen out of her research on transnational litigation and the functioning of national laws on the Internet.

The debate on a major reform of U.S. patent law, which resulted in the adoption of the America Invents Act in 2011, evidenced the desire for greater compatibility of the U.S. patent system with other national patent systems to facilitate access to patenting in multiple countries.

“Inventors are disappointed to learn that there is no global patent available to protect their inventions worldwide,” Trimble said. “Notwithstanding the globalized economy and the territorially unlimited business aspirations of inventors and businesses, patents are still granted country by country, making global protection for an invention very difficult and impossible for small businesses.”

In her book, “Global Patents: Limits of Transnational Enforcement,” published by Oxford University Press in January 2012, Trimble discusses the limitations of protecting inventions globally and explores the possibilities for extending the protection of a single country patent beyond the territory of the country in which the patent is granted. In addition to reviewing international patent law, Trimble discusses and analyzes patent laws in the U.S and Germany—countries among those with the highest volume of patent litigation in the world.

In her second work, to be published later in the first half of 2012, Trimble contributes to the debate about the enforcement of national laws on the Internet.

Discussions about recent legislative proposals on the enforcement of U.S. copyright law on the Internet, such as the proposal for the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and similar initiatives in European countries, have shown that the topic is highly controversial.

Trimble understands the importance of a free media, having grown up during the Soviet era in Central Europe.

“Having grown up behind the Iron Curtain, I am very sensitive to the need for access to uncensored information,” Trimble said. “Listening to foreign radio stations was my family’s everyday routine in Czechoslovakia before 1989 because foreign stations offered the only easily accessible alternative to the local government-censored news. When the government began to interfere with foreign broadcasts in the Czech language, we would tune to the same broadcasts for Poland. I learned quite a bit of Polish that way.”

Trimble’s background and interests in the legal issues of the Internet led her to write about Internet geolocation tools, which are used to limit access to content on the Internet from certain jurisdictions, and explore the legality of the evasion of these tools. Her article, “The Future of Cybertravel: Legal Implications of the Evasion of Geolocation,” will be published by the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal and looks not only at the current status of tools for the evasion of geolocation, but also suggests how the law may treat these tools in the future.

Boyd Alumnus’ Work Experience and Education Help Him to ‘Engineer’ Law Career

Alumni of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law have a variety of backgrounds, each of which helps them when they begin their post-law school careers.

Seaton Curran ’08 currently works at Howard & Howard, a business law firm where his focus is on intellectual property and patent law. However, before going to law school, Curran was a professional engineer.

He gained his degree in engineering from Loyola Marymount in 1996 and began his career as an engineer before going back to school part-time to earn a master’s in business administration from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business in 2000.

Curran moved to Las Vegas in 2003 and worked for Black & Veatch engineering firm. He worked as an engineer throughout his time going to school at Boyd.

“It’s not uncommon for me to be dealing with Ph.D. level scientists and engineers at my job,” Curran said. “It’s been a nice culmination of all my previous experience.”

Curran’s job requires him to deal with foreign clients and foreign patent attorneys on many occasions. He said that it’s not unusual for him to deal with foreign jurisdictions, whether their laws are similar to the United States or not.

“The interesting thing about intellectual property is that since companies are now going global, it’s not surprising that local companies are looking to manufacture in other countries,” he said. “When looking at patent protections, we have to deal with other countries’ laws and how a client’s product could expand into other countries. It’s a little short-sighted to only be dealing with U.S. laws.”

Curran’s time as an engineer also provides him the opportunity to give back to UNLV. He has offered his services to students at the School of Engineering, providing guidance and assistance regarding patent protection.

He said that patent protection is important for the students to have for multiple reasons.

“If they obtain patent protection, it not only helps them to protect their project, but if investors ask about it they have it to weigh risk,” Curran said. “So it gives them a leg up on other people.”

Curran also serves as a member of the Nevada Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board. The board consists of members appointed to 4-year terms, and it deals with collective bargaining and labor relations between local government employers, employees, unions and associations.

“I was made aware of the position three years ago. I filled out the application, and Jim Gibbons, who was governor at the time, made the appointment,” he said

Curran said that the position takes up about 200-220 hours of his time per year. Though his work focus is patents, Curran said he is still able to contribute a great deal.