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Emory Law News Center

International collaboration technological innovation

Andrew Faught |
International Collaboration
Illustration by Harry Campbell

International law informs and guides the use and application of technology and innovation on the global sphere, and Emory Law is a collaborator in enforcing the rule of law— internationally and cosmically. Space warfare may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s serious business for Laurie Blank and a committee drafting a document that sets out to clarify the role of international law in military operations beyond the earthly realm.

“The idea of astronauts shooting lasers at each other in outer space is pretty farfetched,” acknowledges Blank, clinical professor of law and director of Emory’s International Humanitarian Law Clinic. “But the idea of one country shooting down a satellite? That capability exists.”

Blank is a core expert for a four-university collaborative — which includes Australia’s University of Adelaide and UNSW Canberra, the University of Exeter in England, and the University of Nebraska College of Law — that is forging the Woomera Manual, billed as “an authoritative and clear articulation of law in new domains.”

Blank’s work is just one example of how Emory Law faculty members are shaping the international legal ethos. In Africa, Margo Bagley, an Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law, and Nicole Morris, professor of practice, are helping create frameworks that could lead to drug development and patents that could bring health benefits to millions on that continent.

Blank, meanwhile, is focused on the cosmos.

Although the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 addresses the use of space for peaceful purposes, technology has made it necessary to consider its role in a new light. Hence the Woomera Manual — named after the township from which Australia launched its first satellite.

We’re identifying rules of international law, not making law, says Blank, co-author of International Law and Armed Conflict: Fundamental Principles and Contemporary Challenges in the Law of War. “We’re simply identifying what we consider to be existing law, and then we’re explaining it in commentary.”

As President Trump has expressed his sup- port for a “space force,” the manual is intended to be a resource for government legal advisers and decision makers. It seeks to replicate the success of other manuals, including the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflict at Sea and the Harvard Manual on International Law Applicable to Air and Missile Warfare. More recently came the Tallinn Manual in International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations, a study on how international law applies to cyberwarfare.

The manuals are interpretive documents, above all else.

“It would be as if somebody tried to explain each of the amendments to the Bill of Rights,” Blank says. “We have freedom of speech, that’s the rule. But what does that actually mean in practice? What happens when someone yells ‘fire’ in a crowded theater? What happens when some- one says something nasty about the president?”

Though the Geneva Convention prohibits military forces from bombing churches and hospitals, for example, the rules of engagement are murkier in outer space.

 “We’re basically trying to take law that has been applied for many decades on land, and sea, and in the air, and try to understand how it applies to things specific to outer space,” Blank says.

The Law of Armed Conflict, for its part, seeks to reduce warfare’s collateral damage, namely to civilians. Blank and the collaborative are considering the specter of collateral damage in outer space. Destroying a military communication satellite would create space debris that could possibly harm nonmilitary satellites belonging to other countries. 

“How do we take that into account?” Blank asks. “People might agree that you need to minimize collateral harm to people and things that are not involved in the conflict, but how do you do that when we’re talking about something that we’re not sure how to predict?” 

The Woomera manual is expected to be completed in 2020, the culmination of five years of work. Collaborators meet twice a year.

In more terrestrial pursuits, Margo Bagley is working with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a Canadian-based, nonpartisan think tank on global governance. Bagley is a senior fellow with CIGI’s International Law Research Program, for which she researches the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) draft Design Law Treaty — an attempt to simplify IP protections among countries.

Bagley is working on what she hopes will become treaties that provide transparency in the patent system for uses of “indigenous knowledge” and genetic resources, which include plant or animal material that could be used for pharmaceuticals. 

With WIPO, a United Nations agency, Bagley also is working on behalf of the African nation of Mozambique to develop intellectual property rights for “traditional” knowledge, which are the skills and practices held by a community for generations and that form its cultural or spiritual identity. Bagley authored a recent case study on traditional knowledge protections in South Africa.

“It’s unfortunate, because the patents are mostly not being obtained by people in Mozambique,” Bagley says. “It’s basically foreigners who are obtaining the patents and that, of course, leads to increased price for consumers and a net outflow of revenue from the poorer country to the wealthier country.”

Even as many poor countries have a patent process for traditional knowledge, it can be hindered by its own opacity.

“Their patent systems may not involve substantive examination, in which an examiner is going to look at your application to see if what you’re claiming is useful and novel and properly described,” says Bagley, who has written a casebook on international comparative patent law. The current system, she adds, is “not ideal, because it means that you’re going to get patents that should not have been granted, and that can create problems with third parties trying to do business in that country.”

Among the 159 countries in the World Trade Organization, roughly three-quarters are developing nations. 

Bagley points to the success of monatin, a sweetener derived from the South African plant Sclerochiton ilicifolius. The US-based food conglomerate Cargill is working to use monatin for food, beverages, and as a table-top sweetener. South African indigenous communities have received $2.6 million from the company.

“This is great because it allows communities to send their children to school and buy the food they need,” Bagley says. “It also allows them to develop their businesses. It can provide a lot of benefits.” 

Separately, Bagley recently won a $50,000 Emory Global Health Institute grant to work, in con- junction with the School of Public Health, to develop a drug quality assurance project that will use infrared scanners to detect counterfeit medicine.

“It’s a huge problem on the African continent and in developing countries in Asia,” Bagley says. “Counterfeit medicines are a public health menace. People die from taking medicines that not only don’t have the active ingredient, but may sometimes have positively harmful ingredients.”

The scanners use what is known as high-performance liquid chromatography to read a drug’s so-called signature to determine whether it is genuine. Scanner readings are compared to a “spectral library” that displays a drug’s correct properties. 

Bagley’s work isn’t Emory Law’s only legal influence on the continent. Nicole Morris takes part in the Advancing Healthcare Innovation in Africa initiative (AHIA). The project, a collaboration between the law school and the Emory Institute for Drug Development, is an effort to support and promote health innovation technologies in Africa by advising, educating, and training African scientists in the business and legal aspects of the health care sector.

The third-annual AHIA conference was held in July in Johannesburg, South Africa. Morris’s work is helping scientists find ways to commercialize technologies and treatments to address “neglected” conditions such as infant jaundice, HIV, and breast cancer.

The effort aligns with the university’s DRIVE program (Drug Innovations at Emory), which has received more than $20 million in foundation support to develop some of the world’s most successful antiviral drugs, including treatments for respiratory syncytial virus, a major cause of child death. As Emory clinicians are developing drug discovery knowledge, Morris is lending her expertise to commercialize the efforts in a region with little experience in those areas.

 “The first and foremost issue is patents,” Morris says. “Is the technology that they’re pursuing patentable? And then, from a competitive advantage perspective, can they market it or is the patent owned by another person or entity?”

There are inherent challenges, Morris notes. In Africa, there is fragmented intellectual property enforcement and protection, as well as differing cultural norms. AHIA is often the scientists’ first exposure to the possibility of patenting technologies.

“No one is teaching them anything about intellectual property now,” Morris says. “They don’t get any of this content in their current institutions or research institutes. So the idea of how to think about an IP strategy and some of the important variables is the value I bring in.”

Emory law students attend the three-day conference, during which they work with African scientists to develop legal and business frame- works to get technologies commercialized.

“Some technical communities believe that things should be under more of an open-source platform,” she adds. “So filing a patent isn’t really strategically an advantage in their minds.”

Morris is furthering Emory’s global collaboration efforts by taking part in the law school’s collaboration with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University. Emory Law has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Ben-Gurion’s business school that will allow law students to partner with business students toward developing start-ups. The program will launch in March 2019. That effort could have implications for medicine and beyond.