Legal perspectives on new technology: an informed view

Published 30 October 2012

A public lecture in Armidale next week will inform people about the challenges facing the law in its efforts to keep pace with twenty-first-century technological innovations.

Mark Perry (pictured here), newly arrived in Armidale as a Professor of Law at the University of New England, is particularly well qualified to provide significant insights into this process. With academic qualifications in computer science as well as in the law, and extensive experience in both of those fields at universities around the world, he has been conducting research on what he calls “the nexus of technology and the law” for more than 15 years.

His Inaugural Lecture, introducing him as a UNE Professor to the University and Armidale communities, will be at 6.30 pm in the Armidale Town Hall on Wednesday 7 November. The title of the lecture is “Law meets science”.

“When the law meets science,” Professor Perry said, “most lawyers and policy makers don’t understand the science and most scientists don’t understand the law. I conducted a survey of 100 researchers – most of them in Europe – and found that their knowledge of intellectual property and contractual issues was minimal.”

Mark Perry’s professorship at UNE has come after a 13-year succession of senior academic positions at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. During that time he developed a specialised interest in patent law as it applies to advances in biotechnology – a celebrated instance being Canada’s legal battle over the patenting of the genetically engineered “Harvard mouse” used in cancer research. In a 2001 issue of the European Intellectual Property Review, Professor Perry and his biologist partner, Dr Priti Krishna, published their insights into the Harvard mouse case in an article titled “Making sense of mouse tales”.

In recent weeks Dr Krishna has joined Professor Perry in Armidale, where she has taken up a position at UNE as an Associate Professor of molecular biology.

In rural New England Professor Perry will be particularly interested in legal aspects of the use of biotechnology in agriculture, and has in fact just written a paper on the legal implications of the detection of genetically-modified genes in “GM-free” crops. “We’re getting so good at detecting these genes that they’re appearing everywhere,” he said. “And how should the law deal with that? Science keeps moving forward, while policy and legal frameworks don’t keep up with them. In the case of GM genes in agricultural products I think we have to face the inevitable – and the international consensus appears to be that we should have done so years ago. The idea might be to ignore the presence of GM genetic material at levels of less than 1 per cent providing the product has been approved somewhere.”

“Agriculture is changing with the development of new technologies,” he said. “This is likely to become more important because of climate change, and people need to be aware of the issues involved so that they can at least influence the direction in which it goes.”

Mark Perry is co-editor of the book Knowledge Policy for the 21st Century: Legal Perspectives, published in Canada last year by Irwin Law. He has recently been heavily involved in a Genome Canada project researching the ethical, economic, environmental, legal and social aspects of using a genomics approach to pest management.

The lecture on Wednesday 7 November will be followed by drinks and canapés, and everyone is welcome. People planning to attend the event can notify the organisers (to help with catering arrangements) by e-mailing events@une.edu.au by Monday 5 November.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Professor Mark Perry displayed above expands to include Dr Priti Krishna.