Professor Peter Menell Receives Robert L. Bridges Faculty Chair

Peter Menell

By Andrew Cohen

Professor Peter Menell, a driving force behind Berkeley Law’s leading intellectual property program, has been awarded the Robert L. Bridges Faculty Chair. A longtime supporter of the law school, Bridges ’33 was a top Bay Area attorney who specialized in construction law and corporate law.

Menell has played a pivotal role in launching and building the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology (BCLT), the foundation of Berkeley’s IP program. He hatched the idea for the center soon after joining the faculty in 1990, bringing his concept to fruition once he recruited Professor Robert Merges from Boston University.

“We were among a relatively small group of scholars publishing IP articles in major law reviews at the time,” said Menell, whose research and teaching focuses on IP, the digital technology and entertainment industries, environmental law, property law, and law and economics.

Because IP was seen as a practitioner niche, most of the scholarship appeared in specialty journals. “IP was perceived in the academy as a backwater,” Menell said. “No major national law school was actively developing an IP program focused on the Internet wave about to reach the shore. Rob and I were both interested in economics and how it applies to IP, and I thought it would be great to work with someone who was on a similar wavelength.”

When Menell came to Berkeley Law, there were no IP courses other than a copyright class. He developed a working group of colleagues interested in IP and proposed building a new program that explored the interplay between law and technology. In 1995 Menell successfully launched BCLT with Merges and Raymond Ocampo ’76, then Vice President and General Counsel at Oracle.

Menell served as executive director for six of BCLT’s formative years, during which time he founded the Annual Review of Law and Technology, published by the Berkeley Technology Law Journal. The center created a model in which top Bay Area and national firms could give presentations during recruiting season and participate in BCLT events.

“This was a great way for BCLT to grow,” Menell said. “If someone had simply given us $50 million, it would have made our lives a lot easier but wouldn’t have created such a fertile and dynamic ecosystem involving so many leading IP firms and companies. We have maintained our academic independence while drawing on Silicon Valley’s remarkable talent pool and practical experience.”

By cultivating strong relationships across the law and technology field, BCLT became self-supporting—and successful. Berkeley Law’s IP program has been ranked first among U.S. law schools in U.S. News & World Report’s annual survey for 13 of the past 14 years.

“Peter's unique combination of academic brilliance, entrepreneurial skills, and boundless energy have made BCLT a model program for research and teaching intellectual property law,” said BCLT Executive Director Robert Barr. “His insights and guidance have benefitted literally hundreds of students and public officials.”

A Record of Success

In addition to his work with BCLT, Menell has organized more than 40 IP educational programs for the Federal Judicial Center—including an annual multi-day program on “Intellectual Property in the Digital Age.” He has also developed advanced patent and cyberlaw programs for judges, as well as district and circuit court workshops.

“The judicial training programs ended up transforming my life as a scholar and greatly enhanced BCLT’s ability to improve dispute resolution and judicial administration of the intellectual property landscape,” Menell said. “We worked extremely hard creating the first program and everyone could sense that something special was happening. We have continued to build on that initial effort to improve the quality of judicial IP training, which is extremely important in the information age.’”

In 1997, students approached Menell about developing curriculum and opportunities in entertainment law. Although his work had been principally focused on the technology side of IP, Menell “recognized that convergence of the technology and content industries was one of the great emerging challenges of the Internet era.” He used this inquiry to tackle issues at the intersection of Hollywood and Silicon Valley and emerged as a leading scholar in legal protection for content and technology. Menell is now vice chair of the National Academy of Sciences project on “The Impact of Copyright Policy on Innovation in the Digital Era.”

When Menell first joined the law school, he divided his research between environmental law and high-tech. Although IP and BCLT have since claimed much of his time and energy, he’s continued to contribute to the school’s environmental program. Menell founded and organized the Annual Review of Environmental and Natural Resources Law, published by Berkeley Law’s Ecology Law Quarterly. More recently, he and lecturer-in-residence Steven Weissman co-founded the law school’s Energy and Cleantech Law Program, the first of its kind in the nation.

Menell has authored or co-authored more than 50 articles and eight books, including leading casebooks on IP and Internet law. Eight of his pieces have been recognized as top IP or environmental articles of the year. He co-wrote the Patent Case Management Judicial Guide, a leading treatise for patent litigation, and is working on analogous treatises on copyright and trademark case management.

Menell has advised the U.S. Congress, federal agencies, state Attorneys General, and major technology and entertainment companies on a range of IP and antitrust issues. He has also submitted amicus briefs in leading IP cases and consulted and served as an expert witness on several IP matters in state, federal, and foreign tribunals.

Despite the wide scope of his work, Menell keeps a trained eye on the law school. “The thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve always stayed focused on our students,” he said. “Our graduates are leaders in the IP bar. They’re partners and chief in-house IP counsel who are key players in Silicon Valley and beyond—a terrific achievement for them, and a proud legacy for BCLT.”