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Boalt Hall School of Law’s Berkeley Center for Law & Technology has struck gold. Microsoft Corp. announced Tuesday it will donate $1 million to fund research projects by the University of California center’s faculty. The money, which will be provided in increments of $250,000 over a four-year period, will sponsor about two research projects a year. “This is a big deal,” said professor Pamela Samuelson, one of the directors of the center. “This will allow us to extend our research capabilities in ways we’ve been hoping to do for some time.” For the current year, Microsoft will fund professor Robert Merges’ research, which is focused on defining “patent trolls” and the policy issues they raise, and Samuelson’s investigation of the secondary liability technology companies face for copyright infringement by consumers. Samuelson said Microsoft’s general counsel, Bradford Smith, had initiated a relationship with the 10-year-old center. She said he asked to speak at a class and to meet with BCLT’s faculty to explore the possibility of a partnership. “It has to do with the patent reform initiative,” Samuelson said, referring to recent congressional interest in revising the patent system. “We have so much strength here at Berkeley. We’ve had two major conferences on reform and have really talented people in patent policy.” Microsoft has been pushing for an overhaul of the patent system, with a key objective of limiting the power of patent-holding companies — commonly referred to as trolls — from being able to get an injunction against a corporation in a patent infringement suit. Microsoft teamed up with others in the software industry to come up with draft legislation. Their recommendations were folded into a patent reform bill introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, last week. Microsoft’s donation comes as Robert Barr, Cisco Systems Inc.’s worldwide patent counsel, is set to become executive director of BCLT. Microsoft has made donations to other law schools over the years. The gift to Boalt is one of its largest. The company also recently donated $536,000 to Yale University’s law and technology program. Each year, $150,000 of the Microsoft award will be placed in a term endowment to be spent over a 10-year period. Funds from the endowment will be used to establish a Microsoft Fellow in Law Technology. Samuelson said she anticipated recent law school graduates interested in an academic career would apply for the fellowship.

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