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Tackling technology law issues in EU and US

March 03, 2014

Professor Siegfried Fina, Co-Director of the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum

Siegfried Fina

In 1999, NASA  lost $125-million Mars Climate Orbiter because Lockheed Martin who built the spacecraft used metric units while the agency used English units for a key spacecraft operation. This single error caused the spacecraft to burn and break into pieces.

Since a nation’s legal system, similar to a measuring system, is often taken granted for its people, one needs to take extra effort to understand its partner’s law and policy issues to work together. When it comes to technology law, failure to communicate between different legal systems may result in direct and immediate difficulties such as trade barriers and uncertainty in a market. OIA meets with Professor Siegfried Fina at Stanford Law School and Co-Director of the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum (TTLF) to talk about TTLF’s mission and achievements as a think tank for comparative EU-US research in technology law.

Q. One of the main goals of the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum is to promote a balanced approach to technology related issues in the European Union and the United States. What are some of the examples of technology law and policy challenges between the EU and US?

SF: In some areas, technology related regulations differ significantly in the EU and US, which may cause substantial multi-billion-dollar trade barriers in the transatlantic marketplace. These differences usually result out of diverging policy approaches in the EU and US. Some of these diverging approaches are prominently covered by the news and the mass media such as the different data protection standards in the EU and US. The increasing use of information technology is a permanent challenge for data protection and privacy issues on both sides of the Atlantic. The EU pushes forward in this area and promotes the application of comprehensive and effective data protection safeguards in the law enforcement area.

Various other sectors, where we have diverging technology-related law and policy approaches in the EU and US, are not really known to the general public but are of major economic importance for the respective industries. For example, car safety regulations: the European Union and the United States have different car safety requirements for lights, brakes, door-locks, electric windows, seats, seatbelts, and steering. A study which was recently done highlights that transatlantic exports of motor vehicles would at least double, if the EU and US should find a way to overcome their diverging car safety policy standards.

From an academic standpoint and from an overall perspective, TTLF has positioned itself as an internationally unique university-based research program and think tank for comparative EU-US research in technology law over the past decade, for which we receive worldwide recognition.

Q. TTLF covers a wide range of fields including biotechnology, nanotechnology or intellectual property. What is the forum’s approach to tackle these issues?

SF: TTLF’s approach in all fields of technology law is basically the same. We focus on comparative EU-US research including biotechnology, nanotechnology, and intellectual property. TTLF’s policy is to include scholars and experts in our research who are affiliated with other universities and research institutions. For this purpose, we set up a non-residential TTLF fellowship program, which allows international scholars and experts all over the world to contribute and to participate in TTLF’s mission and ongoing research systematically and for longer periods of time in their field of expertise.

This is very enriching for our research and allows us to get immediate international input for our ongoing research. The outcome of a TTLF research project is usually published in our TTLF Working Paper Series. Some working papers comprise several hundred pages, but most of the working papers are shorter. In addition, some of our research has been published in law journals and as books. TTLF also publishes a bimonthly, well-accepted newsletter for current transatlantic antitrust and intellectual property rights developments.

Q. What do you find most challenging when educating lawyers and policymakers on technology laws in the EU and US?

SF: Usually, lawyers and policymakers are well trained or informed in the law of their own jurisdiction. It is a big challenge for us to introduce these lawyers and policymakers to the legal and policy concepts of the other jurisdiction. We are often confronted with the fact that lawyers and policymakers simply try to apply the legal concepts of their own jurisdiction, when they try to understand or criticize the other jurisdiction.

Q. TTLF is jointly sponsored and operated by the University of Vienna’s School of Law. What made them an ideal collaborator for TTLF?

SF: Stanford needs a strong partner university in EU technology law. US law schools traditionally focus on US law, as European law schools traditionally focus on EU law and the national law of their country. Comparative EU-US research in technology law can basically only be done in a comprehensive way and on a systematic basis over a longer period of time if an EU and a US law school pair up, combine their resources, and pursue it as a joint international initiative. Such a comprehensive long-term approach requires a substantial institutional and personal commitment on both sides. Besides the fact that the University of Vienna’s School of Law has been one of the most prestigious and oldest law schools in Europe with an outstanding legal tradition over centuries, it has an excellent diversified program in technology law and an internationally renowned LLM Program in European and International Business Law with a strong emphasis on European and international technology law. This and Vienna’s long-term commitment make the University of Vienna an ideal partner university for TTLF.

Q. It has been 10 years since TTLF was established as a transatlantic academic partnership. What is the most significant achievement in the past decade?

SF: Well, to put it in one sentence: From an academic standpoint and from an overall perspective, TTLF has positioned itself as an internationally unique university-based research program and think tank for comparative EU-US research in technology law over the past decade, for which we receive worldwide recognition. It is probably good to have a research program permanently devoted to transatlantic technology law issues, which regularly challenge the transatlantic marketplace.

* For more information about TTLF’s programs and news & events, please visit the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum.