By Melinda Rogers
The rankings keep stacking up for Utah’s business community. Forbes magazine this month called the Beehive State “the best state for business” for the second year in a row. Entrepreneur magazine followed with its own ranking, naming Utah’s “Silicon Slopes” along the Wasatch Front as the top place in the country for startups to thrive. And the University of Utah in its own right has carved out a reputation as the place to be for student innovators, with the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute fostering young inventors on campus every day.
As Utah makes it mark on the entrepreneurial map —86 of the fastest-growing companies in the country call the state home —questions about the role of law in both fostering or hindering entrepreneurship continue to emerge.
Those questions are at the center of a symposium at the U’s S.J. Quinney College of Law titled “Legal Innovation and Modern Entrepreneurship” on Oct. 30. Business leaders, scholars, students, entrepreneurs and community members will come together to participate in the daylong discussion that will feature a variety of breakout sessions on topics ranging from challenges related to intellectual property to the intricacies of crowd source funding.
Gubernatorial candidate Johnathan Johnson, who is also chairman of the board at Overstock.com, will be the keynote speaker at the event. Johnson’s lecture, from noon to 1:30 p.m. on the sixth floor of the law school, will touch on a number of his personal business experiences.
Johnson joined Overstock.com in 2002 to head its legal department. Within three months he was the fifth member of the company’s executive team. Since then, he’s held various roles, including president for five years and acting CEO. In 2014, he became the chairman of the board. His leadership has significantly contributed to Overstock.com’s remarkable growth from a startup to an international business with over $1.5 billion in annual sales. In the business community, Johnson has been recognized by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce as “Chamber Champion,” by Utah Business Magazine as the ‘Sustainable Business Award Winner for Leadership on Corporate Sustainability’’, and by the Utah Technology Council as “Trustee of the Year” for leadership on public policy issues. He serves on various charitable and community boards, including the board of Governors for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, University of Utah Hospital Foundation, the Utah Technology Council, and is the founding chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber Clean Air Task Force in Utah. He also created the Right to Try Foundation to help provide terminally ill patients aid in seeking new medicines.
The event takes place at a time when Utah’s business climate continues to skyrocket, bringing an economic bolster to the region — but also a new landscape of legal questions associated with entrepreneurship, said Jeff Schwartz, a professor at the law school whose research focuses on securities law, investment-management regulation, and retirement policy.
“The topic of entrepreneurship, and the role of law in encouraging or stymieing it, have been central topics of discussion in recent years as politicians and policymakers increasingly look toward new businesses to spur economic growth,” said Schwartz, who helped to organize the symposium and will present at the event.
“Salt Lake City and the University of Utah have become hotbeds of entrepreneurial activity, so it makes sense to bring thought leaders from around the country here to engage in a robust dialogue about the issues at stake,” he said.
8 a.m. – Registration, sign In and continental breakfast
9 –10:15 a.m. – Panel 1: Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property: Partnership or Precarious Pairing?
Robin Feldman, Michael Burstein, Eric Paulsen, Amelia Rinehart (moderator)
This panel will focus on the complicated relationship between entrepreneurship and intellectual property protection.
How do entrepreneurs manage innovation, intellectual property protection and capital raising in light of complex and changing legal doctrines? Do entrepreneurs need more IP protection or less? How relevant is an IP asset portfolio to a startup’s decision-making when it comes to raising capital and/or choosing an IPO, acquisition, or private equity models for sustenance? With respect to patent law, in particular, what roles do non-practicing entities play in decisions made by entrepreneurs who own patents? How do universities navigate this space with limited resources to encourage faculty entrepreneurs while still protecting important IP assets?
10:30–11:45 a.m. – Panel 2: Corporate and Securities Law: Enabling or Disabling Entrepreneurship
Jack Boren, John Coyle, Gordon Smith, Jeff Steele, Jeff Schwartz (moderator)
This panel will consider the extent to which corporate and securities laws facilitate or hinder entrepreneurial activities. Among other things, it will consider whether securities laws in the entrepreneurial space strike the right balance between capital raising and investor protection or if this is a false dichotomy. The panel will also discuss the most significant changes and innovations in early-stage capital raising and the extent to which these have been driven by changes to legal requirements.
12–1:30 p.m. – Keynote speaker & lunch
1:45–3 p.m. – Panel 3: Entrepreneurship’s Challenges Within Patent Law’s Changing Landscape
Amy Landers, Sherman Helenese, Joshua Walker, Amelia Rinehart (moderator)
This panel discussion will highlight recent prominent U.S. patent law changes that increasingly impact entrepreneurs and their decisions related to patent protection.
What long-term innovation ecosystem impacts will come from any or all these important cases from the past 10 years: eBay, KSR, MedImmune, Quanta, Stanford v. Roche, Global Tech, Mayo, Myriad, Actavis, Octane Fitness/Highmark, Nautilus, Akamai, Alice, and Teva? If patent law is in a state of flux, how can innovators react and protect their investments wisely without undue risk?
3:15–4:30 p.m. – Panel 4: Retail and Accredited Investor Crowdfunding
Jay Barney, Evan Hiller, Christine Hurt, Andrew Schwartz, Jeff Schwartz (moderator)
This panel will consider the current state of crowdfunding, including, among other things, the extent to which new, more relaxed, rules for equity sales to accredited investors are facilitating it and whether crowdfunding may serve a unique role for social entrepreneurship. The panel will also discuss the prospects for crowdfunding under Title III of the JOBS Act, and the reasons the SEC has long delayed issuing final rules to effectuate the provision.
Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.