John Duffy, JD '89, Joins UVA Faculty

Influential intellectual property law scholar John Duffy will join the University of Virginia law faculty in the fall, expanding the school’s notable roster of IP law experts.

Duffy, currently the Oswald Symister Colclough Research Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School, teaches courses in intellectual property, administrative law and torts.

“He's a wonderful addition to our faculty in intellectual property and an expert on a variety of issues concerned with constitutional law, federal courts and the structure of the federal government,” said Professor George Rutherglen, who helped recruit Duffy. “We are very pleased to have him join our faculty.”

Duffy co-authored a casebook on patent law, “Patent Law and Policy,” and has published articles on a wide range of regulatory and intellectual property issues in publications such as the Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, the University of Chicago Law Review, the Columbia Law Review and the New York University Law Review.

In the field of intellectual property, he has been identified as one of the 25 most-influential people in the nation by The American Lawyer and one of the 50 most influential people in the world by the U.K. publication Managing Intellectual Property. He was named a legal “visionary” by the Legal Times in 2009 and has been profiled in BusinessWeek.

Duffy’s 2008 article “Are Administrative Patent Judges Unconstitutional?” was covered in the New York Times and helped lead to legislation that restructured the appointment process for administrative patent judges.

Duffy’s scholarship has focused generally on the relationship between patents and competition and, in particular, on how competition to obtain rights affects the legal and economic structure of the patent system.  

“Competition to obtain rights is one of the most important features of the system and yet it’s frequently overlooked,” Duffy said. “Oftentimes patents are described as being the antithesis of competition; they are described as monopoly rights. But that is not really very accurate. While in the short-term patents do confer rights to exclude others, the patent system as a whole is designed to foster long-term competition to innovate with innovators competing to make the next generation of drugs, medical devices, software or business methods.”

Duffy said he first became interested in the competition issue when he wrote an article expanding on the ideas in Law School Professor Ed Kitch’s article “The Nature and Function of the Patent System.”

“One of the things that really makes me thrilled to join the UVA faculty is the strength of the school’s existing intellectual property faculty,” Duffy said, pointing to Kitch, Margo Bagley, Tom Nachbar, Dotan Oliar and Chris Sprigman. “I really look forward to having them as colleagues and more generally, the UVA faculty has tremendous strength in other areas that interest me, including law and economics and the constitutional and statutory structure of governmental institutions.”

In addition to making a mark through his scholarship, Duffy was influential in important patent cases in court. In 2007 he was co-counsel for the prevailing petitioner in the Supreme Court case KSR v. Teleflex, which was the first Supreme Court case in decades on the standard of patentability. In 2008 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit invited him to present oral argument in an important en banc case, In re Bilski, concerning whether novel business methods could be patented.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have a role in some interesting cases,” Duffy said. “I’ve always felt that legal theory and scholarship can and should have practical effects, and my work on litigated cases is one way of demonstrating that academic scholarship has relevance to the real world. I also believe that there’s a great message in all of this for students: Law is a deeply intellectual field, and the theoretical issues students learn in law school will be extremely important to the work they will do later as practicing attorneys.”

Duffy earned his B.A. in physics at Harvard University and his J.D. from the University of Chicago. After law school he clerked for Judge Stephen Williams on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, then served as an attorney adviser in the Department of Justice, where his colleagues included John Harrison and Barbara Armacost, who later became professors at the University of Virginia Law School. He subsequently clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and worked for Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C., where he focused on appellate litigation, administrative law, communications regulation and intellectual property.

Duffy began his career as an academic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, became a tenured professor at the William & Mary Law School and joined the faculty of George Washington in 2003.