October 03, 2019 Message from the Chair

Nanotechnology: Tiny scale, massive promise, uncertain risks

By Julie A. Fleming

Welcome to the first issue of The SciTech Lawyer for the 2019–2020 bar year! The theme for this issue is Nanotechnology. The interdisciplinary field of nanotechnology was born some twenty-five years ago and yet remains an “emerging technology,” replete with popular references, public misunderstanding, unrealized revolutionary potential, increasing evolutionary innovation, and risk that cannot yet be fully appreciated. The lineup of articles will guide you through a variety of issues that will help to share the future of nanotechnology.

First, long-time Section member Dr. Diana Bowman’s Lawyers, Take Note: Why the Invisible Matters provides a background on the development and as-yet unrealized promises of nanotechnology while arguing that the legal issues raised at the birth of nanotech persist today. Raj Bawa, Chair of SciTech’s Nanotechnology Committee and Vice Chair of our Precision Medicine Committee, continues the discussion of “nanopotential” in the context of nanomedicine, particularly the drug-delivery sector. Next, the Section’s own Dr. Brian Reese and Michael Schmitt explore intellectual property protection for nanotech-related inventions. Don’t miss Edward Glady’s vivid description of the liability landscape for nanotechnology, which offers the sobering argument that clarity concerning liability can exist only on the basis of future experience and understanding of the harm that nanotech innovation could cause. Finally, Lynn Bergeson and Carla Hutton investigate the ways in which EPA and FDA have designed a regulatory framework that protect both human health and the environment from the potential dangers of nanomaterials. Enjoy this stellar collection of articles.

Highlights of the ABA Annual Meeting

The last bar year closed out at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, where SciTech sponsored a program titled “Shaping our Future: Top Tech Company Lawyers on Innovation and Social Responsibility,” featuring general counsels from four top companies: Microsoft, Oracle, Lyft and 23andme. The GCs addressed technologies that are outpacing regulation and social dialogue, such as facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and genetic testing, and the need to have counsel work with developers to anticipate and address legal issues.

SciTech also sponsored a resolution that was adopted by the House of Delegates, urging “courts and lawyers to address the emerging ethical and legal issues related to the usage of artificial intelligence (AI) in the practice of law, including: (1) bias, explainability, and transparency of automated decisions made by AI; (2) ethical and beneficial usage of AI; and (3) controls and oversight of AI and the vendors that provide AI.” A cross-ABA working group is now being established to study a possible model standard for legal and ethical usage of AI by courts and lawyers. Among other AI-related initiatives, the Section is also presenting the National Institute on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics on January 9–10, 2020 at Santa Clara University School of Law. Panels will address AI and robotics in transportation, healthcare, financial services as well as the data privacy and data security implications and much more.

Find more highlights of the bar year on the SciTech website, including Immediate Past Chair William Baker’s presentation summarizing all of the activity in the past bar year. Cheers to all of the SciTech members and leadership who contributed to such a successful year! We invite your participation as we continue to shape emerging issues at the intersection of law, science, and technology.