Featured in the magazine's January 2013 issue, Professor Lobel discusses her career choice, connections to Israel, upcoming book, and current research in the article. Read the article in Hebrew online or see the English translation below.
Orly Lobel teaches and writes in the areas of employment law, intellectual property law, regulatory and administrative law, torts, behavioral economics, health policy, consumer law and trade secrets at the University of San Diego School of Law. Her current research focuses on innovation policy and intellectual property.
The 50 Sharpest Minds of Israel, The Marker Magazine, January 2013
"The Sharpest Minds – Law: Opener of Black Boxes"
By Dafna Maor
In her unconventional research on risk perception, intellectual property and human capital, Professor Orly Lobel challenges orthodox legal regimes and outdated presumptions, bringing the law up to date.
Orly Lobel looks like a happy person. In a sunny morning in north Tel-Aviv, she closes our conversation by quoting Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will not have to work a day in your life.” This may be the secret to her happiness. Lobel is a professor of law at the University of San Diego, and one of the foremost scholars in her field. She became a professor at young age, published numerous studies, received awards and grants, and this year was one of the five scholars to receive a University Professorship at her university. Recently, she was invited to speak at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna about her research on human capital and the flow of knowledge – a rare honor for Israeli academics.
Her new book, Talent Wants to Be Free: The Upside of Leaks, Raids, and Free-Riding, is soon to be published (Yale University Press 2013) and she hopes it will be translated into Hebrew. Her extended family lives in Israel and it seems that Lobel, at least in spirit, is as much here as she is there, in California. Last year she spent her sabbatical as a visiting professor at Tel-Aviv University and has taught courses in Israel about “Corporate Innovation and Intellectual Property” at Tel-Aviv, Bar-Ilan, and Haifa universities. In her current research she collaborates with Yuval Feldman from Bar-Ilan University and Michal Gal at Haifa University. In collaboration with Feldman and Lilach Luria from Hebrew University, she authored the chapter on employment law in the new book edited by Uriel Proccacia, Economic Analysis of the Law.
Lobel studies a wide array of fields, employing inter-disciplinary methodologies that go beyond the conventional study of law. One of her main fields of research is risk analysis—for example in the field of health: “Take for example drug warnings. The longer they are and the more side effects they include, people tend to discount them.” In her research, Lobel attempts to illuminate for legislators and regulators (in the United States for example the FDA) the most effective ways to design such warnings. Similarly, her research examines financial risk taking, an area that relates to behavioral economics. “Older people, it is commonly thought, tend to be more risk averse” she says, and explains how in one her experimental studies, she demonstrates that the opposite can be true: when sequential decision-making is required, older people tend to get tired and their cognitive resources, that are intended to neutralize the temptation mechanisms that cause people to take risks, get depleted more rapidly.
Lobel also studies intellectual property and innovation. “We understand now that we have tilted the pendulum too far to the direction of over-propertization,” she explains. “Extreme commentators even contend that it would be best to do away with intellectual property altogether. My position is that we have gone too far and have somewhat lost sight of what we are trying to achieve through intellectual property laws – they are meant to drive more innovation and to incentivize more and better ideas in the market. The patent battles between Apple and Samsung is a classic case where the balances have been lost – we don’t stop to consider the loss for the consumer when there is such high market concentration of one producer.” Among other things, Lobel’s research examines how more liberal and relaxed legal approaches to patents and intellectual property in some regions affect economic growth.
A third area in Lobel’s scholarship is human capital. According to Lobel, legal issues in this field are often under the radar in legal debates about intellectual property and innovation policy. “This is a new field that I am aiming to shape,” she says. “There is a lot of legal policy that creates monopolies over ideas, information, and potential for inventiveness – such as non-compete restrictions on employees who leave a company, the assignment of ownership over intellectual property between the individual and the corporation, the employee and the employer. There is a need to think not just abstractly, but practically and realistically, what and who is the law protecting.”
Does she believe that the legal system takes into account the insights from her research and other such scholarly research? Her response to this question is straightforward: Both in Israel and in the United States there is collaboration, attention and implementation of research insights into practice. “The legislator and the courts are increasingly more open to accept academic scholarship, because they realize that doctrine gets outdated.” Her research “challenges the legal orthodoxy that rests on assumptions based on classic economic analysis, for example, that people are rational, that the market is perfected, and that the corporation is a black box - without understanding the links between the people inside the corporation. What I do in effect is open the black box of the organization.”
What is the greatest research challenge in your field today?
Lobel points to the mass of information (“the amount of data that needs to be processed is immense”) along with globalization as the greatest challenges which researchers face these days. “Lately, I have discovered research done in Singapore and China relevant to my own research,” she explains, but emphasizes that even in a global world there is great significance to locality, as evidenced by the way certain regions, in the United States and around the world, have a strong competitive edge in specific markets and industries.
What is the state of Israeli academic research in your opinion?
The academic world in Israel, with which Lobel is very strongly connected, is considered according to Lobel especially outstanding in the legal field. “One of the reasons that there are less challenges for legal academia in comparison to other fields of research is that the amount of money required to do good research is smaller,” she explains. “Even for empirical studies, there isn’t a need for $3 million, as is needed to found a bio-engineering lab. There is no need for DNA printers that cost $0.5 million each; the most expensive resource in legal academia is the brain itself. Other than the challenge of brain drain, the Israeli legal academy is very strong.”
What is, in your view, the public or social status of an academic researcher in Israel?
The career of an academic researcher is especially prestigious in Israel, perhaps more so than in the United State. There, at least in some circles, money is more highly valued. We are a very intellectual society and even if in the end of the day one earns less here and makes certain sacrifices, these are esteemed sacrifices. Here the community is smaller and each individual can be a big fish.
Lobel notes Professor Martha Minow, the Dean of the Harvard Law School and her doctoral supervisor. “Her writing is fueled by empathy. She has a brilliant theoretical mind, but also sensitivity to the real and complex challenges of our society. She writes in a broad range of fields. Barack Obama was her student and among other things, she wrote some of his speeches during the first elections. The first year he was her student she said – ‘He will be the president of the United States.’ She has a very political eye.”
What would you do if you weren’t in academia?
“I believe I might have been a journalist.”
About the University of San Diego School of Law
Recognized for the excellence of its faculty, curriculum and clinical programs, the University of San Diego (USD) School of Law enrolls approximately 900 Juris Doctor and graduate law students from throughout the United States and around the world. The law school is best known for its offerings in the areas of business and corporate law, constitutional law, intellectual property, international and comparative law, public interest and taxation.
USD School of Law is one of the 81 law schools elected to the Order of the Coif, a national honor society for law school graduates. The law school’s faculty is a strong group of outstanding scholars and teachers with national and international reputations and currently ranks 23rd worldwide in all-time faculty downloads on the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN). The school is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Founded in 1954, the law school is part of the University of San Diego, a private, nonprofit, independent, Roman Catholic university chartered in 1949.