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Of Loopholes and Black Holes

A UND legal scholar stirs international attention with a “startling” article on the Large Hadron Collider.

Loopholes
After coding several lines to doll up a Web site he’s working on, Eric E. Johnson stops to review his handiwork.

Not bad, considering his day job is teaching torts and other courses at the University of North Dakota School of Law.  An accomplished intellectual property (IP) attorney, Johnson also has set up the country’s first known museum of objects related to famous IP law cases — with a Web site he built himself to showcase the museum’s collection.  The Museum of Intellectual Property is on display in UND’s Thormodsgard Law Library.

Though his primary scholarship interests are intellectual property and entertainment law, Johnson, who’s also been a radio broadcaster, stirred the pot internationally with a widely read article about the “Large Hadron Collider” (LHC), or so-called “Black Hole” machine.

Pundits who read Johnson’s article called it startling — all the more so because it came from an academician in North

Dakota, far from the LHC’s home at CERN, a European nuclear research facility that straddles the French-Swiss border.

Johnson’s wide-ranging work recently earned him the Robert Johnson Research Fellow Award, given to Law School faculty members to advance their research and scholarship.  The award fund was established by Phyllis Johnson, UND vice president for research and economic development, in honor of her late husband Robert, a UND law grad.

Bringing positive attention to the School of Law works wonders.

“We get a fascinating new perspective on the issue from Eric Johnson, an associate professor of law at the University of North Dakota School of Law in Grand Forks,” reads an article in a 2010 issue of MIT Technology Review.  “Johnson asks what a court should do with a preliminary injunction request to halt a multibillion-dollar particle-physics experiment that plaintiffs claim could create a black hole that will devour the planet.”

“This is a problem (Johnson says) that has all the hallmarks of a law-school classic.  And to give him his due, it’s certainly a gripping read,” the article continues (see http://web.law.und.edu/news/s10/EEJohnson-MITart.php).  Johnson also wrote about this in an article that appeared in the British journal New Scientist.  His original arguments appeared in the Tennessee Law Review (vol. 76, p. 819).

Johnson, associate professor of law, received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000, where he was a member of the Board of Student Advisers and an instructor in legal reasoning and argument.  He received his B.A. from the Plan II program at the University of Texas at Austin in 1994.

After law school, Johnson was an associate in the litigation and intellectual property litigation practices at Irell & Manella in Los Angeles, where his

clients included Paramount, MTV, CBS, Touchstone, Immersion Corporation, and the bankruptcy estate of eToys.com.  Johnson later became in-house counsel to Fox Cable Networks in Los Angeles, drafting and negotiating deals for Fox Sports Net and Fox College Sports.

More recently, Johnson has been running a “Konomark” project, which aims to help people share their copyrighted works on the Internet (konomark.org).  In August, Johnson was appointed as an affiliate scholar of the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society to work on the Konomark project.

Outside of his legal career, Johnson was a Top-40 radio disc jockey, a stand-up comic, and a consultant at an early-stage Internet start-up.  In 2005 he was awarded a patent on a headrest he invented for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Before joining the UND faculty, Johnson taught as an adjunct professor at Whittier Law School and the Pepperdine University School of Law, teaching patent law, trademarks, and entertainment law.

Johnson authors three blogs: Blog Law Blog, which covers the legal aspects of blogging; Pixelization, which mostly concerns intellectual property and entertainment law; and The Backbencher, a humorous take on the law, lawyering, and life as a law professor.

Juan Pedraza | Staff Writer