Protecting knowledge

Charles R. McManis works to promote new technology while preserving traditional wisdom

Ever since his stint as a naval officer, Charles R. McManis, J.D., the Thomas and Karole Green Professor of Law, has repeatedly traversed new and complex waters.

Charles R. McManis, J.D. (right), the Thomas and Karole Green Professor of Law, discusses international intellectual property law with first-year student Jeremy Zangara. McManis
Charles R. McManis, J.D. (right), the Thomas and Karole Green Professor of Law, discusses international intellectual property law with first-year student Jeremy Zangara. McManis “has been a wonderful teacher, scholar and entrepreneur in initiating and organizing program after program at the law school,” Dean Joel Seligman says.

McManis’ unusual path to the law and teaching has taken him from sailor and burgeoning philosopher to the forefront of biopiracy prevention and digital intellectual property law in a career that has spanned more than 30 years.

“I joined the Navy armed with a philosophy degree, and the Navy, in its wisdom, decided to send me to U.S. Naval Justice School,” McManis says.

After serving as gunnery officer and legal officer on a ship for two years, McManis attended the U.S. Naval Instructors School and began teaching at the U.S. Naval Officer Candidate School (OCS).

“At the U.S. Naval Justice School, I discovered that I love the law, and at OCS I learned that I love to teach,” McManis says. “But for some reason I didn’t go straight to law school when I left the Navy. Instead I went to graduate school at Duke for a master’s degree in philosophy. I hated it.”

While earning the master’s, he applied to law school and entered the next first-year class at Duke’s School of Law.

After law school, McManis thought he finally found his calling while clerking for Frank M. Johnson, the civil rights judge known for his work on the panel that desegregated the Montgomery bus system and subsequent civil rights decisions in Alabama.

“It was an incredible experience working for one of my childhood heroes, and I thought that I would spend the rest of my career teaching civil rights law,” McManis says. “Instead, during my first teaching assignment at the University of Georgia, I began teaching trademark and unfair-competition law courses.”

While at Georgia, he developed interests in copyright and patent law, the two main parts of intellectual property law.

In 1978, F. Hodge O’Neal, a faculty member at Washington University’s School of Law who later became its 18th dean, saw McManis was developing an impressive reputation in the growing area of intellectual property law. O’Neal enlisted law school Dean Tad Foote to lure McManis to the faculty.

“Hodge O’Neal was my mentor and one of my favorite professors from my days at Duke,” McManis says. “We worked together briefly at Louisiana State University, and when he and Tad asked me to join the faculty at Washington University, I couldn’t say no.”

Digital world

At the University, McManis’ research has explored many different areas of intellectual property law, but his main focus is international digital technology and biodiversity.

According to McManis, many people think that the intellectual property law involving digital technology deals mainly with Internet issues, when in reality, the online world is “just a piece of the puzzle.”

“Since the ’80s, intellectual property protection has been a priority of international trade issues,” he says. “During the Reagan administration, the U.S. was concerned with the loss of competitiveness in foreign markets due to exported products, such as software, falling victim to piracy in foreign markets.

“The government had to decide whether to respond by building high barriers around the country, thereby closing out international trade, or by working to level the international-trade playing field so the U.S. could be more competitive.”

The United States decided to remain a part of international trade, and through a series of World Trade Organization talks, the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement was created. TRIPS calls for international protection and enforcement of copyright and related rights, trade secrets, patents, industrial designs and trademarks.

“While these minimum standards have cut back on digital technology piracy and have opened international trade, developing countries feel like intellectual property protection is a new form of colonialism,” McManis says.

“On some levels, they are correct. In the short run, there will be wealth transfers from the poor part of the world to the rich part of the world. The hope is this will lead to investment in the developing world.

“It’s like bad-tasting medicine: It tastes bad at first, but it is supposed to make you better in the end.”

Concern over whether this was, in fact, the case prompted McManis to examine how developing countries can use intellectual property law for their own protection and economic development. Much of his work on this subject concentrates in East Asia.

Since 1987, McManis has taught or presented research about intellectual property law throughout the region. In 1993, he received a Fulbright Fellowship to serve as a professor at the International Intellectual Property Training Institute in Taejon, Korea.

He has also served as an exchange professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China.

Internet issues are of interest to McManis as well, and he sees the music-downloading controversy as a microcosm of the overall concerns with digital technology intellectual property law.

“Unauthorized file-sharing of copyrighted music is hard-core copyright infringement,” McManis says. “You can’t slice it any other way.

“When you are downloading music without permission of the copyright owner, you are infringing on their rights.”

McManis notes that the ultimate controversy is whether the producer of software that facilitates copying, like Napster, should be held liable.

“The public should not be deprived of that type of software if it has legitimate uses such as distributing the work of unrecorded artists,” he says. “Intellectual property protection is necessary, but there are two dangers. The first is too little protection and the second is too much protection.

“There needs to be a balance of the interests of creating incentives for creators but not so many incentives that it inhibits the access of users.”

Embracing traditional knowledge

While McManis enjoys protecting new technology, he also is passionate about preserving traditional knowledge and the rights of those who possess it.

“The tropical world has a wealth of natural resources that can be used to develop life-saving pharmaceuticals,” McManis says. “Just as countries want fair compensation for the digital technology they export, indigenous cultures would like adequate reimbursement for the traditional medicinal and agricultural knowledge that they can give to the rest of the world.”

Charles R. McManis

Degrees: Bachelor’s in philosophy, Birmingham-Southern College, 1964; master’s in philosophy, Duke University, 1972; J.D., Duke University, 1972

University position: Thomas & Karole Green Professor of Law

Family: Wife, Dorris McManis; children, Chris, 22, a junior at the University of South Florida; Kevin, 21, a sophomore at the University of Tampa

Hobbies: Gardening and world travel

As part of his research, McManis helped bring together leading biological and social scientists, legal scholars, international government officials and indigenous communities to discuss this issue at the 2003 “Biodiversity, Biotechnology and the Protection of Traditional Knowledge” conference.

Out of that and earlier conferences, McManis published an article on “Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources and Traditional Knowledge Protection: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally” in the Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law.

At the School of Law, McManis is using his intellectual property law research to help start the Center for Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the associated Intellectual Property and Business Formation Legal Clinic.

These programs, funded by the Kauffman Foundation Campus Entrepreneurship Initiative, will promote academic research on entrepreneurship and bring together students from many disciplines to work on all aspects of product and business development.

“This is an incredible opportunity for students and academics and is indicative of how great the School of Law and the University as a whole is,” McManis says.

A popular instructor, he was named Teacher of the Year by students in 2001 — the same year he was given the law school alumni association’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

“Chuck McManis is an army unto himself,” says Joel Seligman, J.D., dean of the School of Law and the Ethan A.H. Shepley University Professor. “He has been a wonderful teacher, scholar and entrepreneur in initiating and organizing program after program at the law school.”

McManis continues to enjoy his time at the University.

“The law school is a wonderful place to work,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to teach anyplace else. We have a first-class group of faculty and students and an energetic leader in Joel Seligman.”

Outside of the University, McManis spends his free time gardening and traveling the world with his wife, Dorris, a retired employee of the U.S. Postal Service and avid marathoner.

“We really loved our recent trips to Singapore and Thailand,” McManis says, “and I’ve got a soft spot for anything British, so England is a favorite destination.

“I also have a particular cultural interest in Korea, the birthplace of my sons, Chris and Kevin. Locally, though, my favorite trip is my walk to work in the morning.”

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