Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Why do I blog?

Friday and Saturday I'll be at PatCon9 at the University of Kansas School of Law. I'll discuss a scholarly work-in-progress with Janet Freilich, and I've also been invited to serve on a panel on "Roles and Influence of Patent Blogs" (with Kevin Noonan from Patent Docs and Jason Rantanen from Patently-O, and Written Description's own Camilla Hrdy serving as moderator). So I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on why I've written over 300 blog posts throughout the past eight years. (For those who want to read some highlights, note that many individual words below link to separate posts.)

I started Written Description in February 2011 when I was a 3L at Yale and was winding down my work as a Yale Law Journal Articles Editor, which had been a great opportunity to read a lot of IP scholarship. I noted that there were already many blogs reporting on the latest patent news (like Patently-O and Patent Docs), but that it was "much harder to find information about recent academic scholarship about patent law or broader IP theory." The only similar blog I knew of was Jotwell, but it had only two patent-related posts in 2010. (In 2015, I was invited to join Jotwell as a contributing editor, for which I write one post every spring.) Written Description has grown to include guest posts and other blog authors—currently Camilla Hrdy (since 2013) and Michael Risch (since 2015).

Most of my posts have featured scholarship related to IP and innovation. Some posts simply summarize an article's core argument, but my favorite posts have attempted to situate an article (or articles) in the literature and discuss its implications and limitations. I also love using my blog to highlight the work of young scholars, particularly those not yet in faculty positions. And I enjoyed putting together my Classic Patent Scholarship project; inspired by Mike Madison's work on "lost classics" of IP scholarship, I invited scholars to share pre-2000 words that they thought young IP scholars should be aware of.

Some posts have focused on how scholarship can inform recent news related to IP. For example, I recently posted about the role of public funding in pharmaceutical research. And I have drawn connections between scholarship and Supreme Court patent cases such as Impression v. Lexmark, Cuozzo v. Lee, Halo v. Pulse, Teva v. Sandoz, FTC v. Actavis, Bowman v. Monsanto, and Microsoft v. i4i. My compilation of Supreme Court patent cases has been cited in some academic articles, and my post on Justice Scalia's IP legacy led to some interesting discussions. I have also reflected on patent law scholarship more generally, such as on how patent law criteria apply to evaluating legal scholarship, what experience is needed to write good scholarship, choosing among academic IP conferences, transitioning from science to patent law, and why IP isn't on the bar exam.

I sometimes debate whether blogging is still worth my time. I could instead just post links to recent scholarship on Twitter, or I could stop posting about new scholarship altogether. But a number of people who aren't on Twitter—including from all three branches of the federal government—have told me that they love receiving Written Description in their email or RSS feed. Condensing patent scholarship seems like a valuable service even for these non-academic readers alone. And the pressure to keep writing new posts keeps me engaged with the recent literature in a way that I think makes me a better scholar. I don't think blogging is a substitute for scholarship, or that it will be anytime soon. Rather, I view my blogging time as similar to the time I spend attending conferences or commenting on other scholars' papers over email—one of many ways of serving and participating in an intellectual community.

I still have a lot of questions about the role of law-related blogs today, and I hope we'll discuss some of them on Thursday. For example: Has the role of blogs shifted with the rise of Twitter? Should blog authors have any obligation to study or follow journalism ethics and standards? How do blog authors think about concerns of bias? For many patent policy issues, the empirical evidence base isn't strong enough to support strong policy recommendations—do blog authors have any obligation to raise counterarguments and conflicting evidence for any decisions or academic papers they are highlighting? What are the different financial models for blogs, and how might they conflict with other blogging goals? (This may be similar to the conflicts traditional media sources face: e.g. clickbait to drive readership can come at the cost of more responsible reporting.) Do the ethical norms of blog authorship differ from those of scholars? How should blogs consider issues of diversity and inclusion when making choices about people to spotlight or to invite for guest authorship?

I'll conclude by noting that for PatCon8 at the University of San Diego School of Law, I tried a new blogging approach: I live Tweeted the conference and then published a Tweet recap. (Aside: I started those Tweets by noting that 19% of PatCon8 participants (13 out of 68) were women. The PatCon9 speaker list currently has 24% (7 out of 29) women speakers, but I don't know which direction non-speaker participants will push this.) For PatCon9, should I (1) live Tweet again (#PatCon9), (2) just do a blog post with some more general reactions (as I've done for some conferences before), or (3) not blog about the conference at all?

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