Robin Feldman, Professor of Law & Director Institute for Innovation Law UC-Hastings.
Robin Feldman, Professor of Law & Director Institute for Innovation Law UC-Hastings. (Jason Doiy)

Robin Feldman is a professor of law and director of the Institute for Innovation Law at UC-Hastings College of the Law. She graduated from Stanford Law School.

Q: How’d you end up in this job?

A: I graduated from college with a BA in International Relations, which meant that I had no marketable skills. (I say this with all due affection for my beloved alma mater, Stanford University.) I got a job on Capitol Hill answering the mail, then as a legislative assistant for a member of Congress, and then in essentially a lobbying position at a DC law firm. I worked on a team in which the other members all had law degrees, were over the age of 30 and, of course, had much better pay and prospects. So, I decided to go to law school, and I found that I loved legal academics.

Q: What do you like most about it?

A: I love running our Startup Legal Garage, in which students work for tech and biotech start-up companies, with their work supervised pro bono by outside law firms. It is wonderfully exciting to work with the start-up companies and to give students this tremendous opportunity.

Q: Best career advice you ever got?

A: Whatever task is in front of you, no matter how small or menial, do it to the best of your abilities. Better tasks will follow.

Q: What would you do if you weren’t doing this?

A: I have no idea. I love my job.

Q: What professional achievement are you most proud of?

A: My first book, “The Role of Science in Law” (Oxford, 2009).

Q: Guilty pleasure?

A: Watching “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Q: Workplace pet peeve?

A: Burden-shifting and bureaucracy.

Q: Words to live by?

A: Not words, but a story. About 1,900 years ago, a scholar spent 10 years on a body of work, proving that two concepts could be connected in every place they appeared. When he reached the last appearance, he could not find a connection. He chose not to publish his work, because he said that the truth was much more important than the body of work. In the end, one of the greatest scholars in the field found a connection, and the work was published. I greatly admire that level of integrity.

Q: One word others would use to describe you?

A: Relentless.

Q: Recent book or movie you’d recommend?

A: “The Night Circus.”

Q: Startle us with a prediction.

A: The Supreme Court will revisit gene patenting, and following up on Myriad, will find that many of the gene-related patents now being approved fail to meet the requirements of novelty and nonobviousness. (This is not a wish, but a prediction.)

Q: What statistic scares you the most?

A: According to figures in this summer’s White House Report on Patent Assertion, 90 percent of patent demands never proceed as far as filing a lawsuit; my research, along with the research of others, shows that the majority of patent lawsuits are now filed by patent assertion entities. The implications of both of those statistics are sobering.

Q: How are patent trolls affecting start-ups?

A: My recent study, Patent Demands & Startup Companies: The View from the Venture Capital Community, along with work by Colleen Chien, shows the negative impact that patent demands are having on start-up companies. Most of those demands are coming from patent assertion entities (which I describe as those whose core activity involves licensing or litigating patents, rather than making products). Such demands are a serious problem for companies trying to get off the ground or attract funding.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about patent trolls?

A: That it is a monolithic problem. In fact, there are many types of monetization, which creates a multiheaded monster that will have to be attacked on several fronts, across time.

Contact the reporter at npierrepont@alm.com.