Research Spotlight: Dr Mariela de Amstalden

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This post highlights research interests and activities of Dr Mariela de Amstalden

Dr Mariela de Amstaiden

My research work focuses on intellectual property rights, technology and innovation law and global economic governance. In broad terms, this work examines the trajectory of emerging disruptive technologies, their legal and regulatory pathways and their socio-economic impact. While doing so, it engages in two main strands of inquiry, rooted in distinct but complementary methodological approaches.

The first strand, Future Foods, examines the emerging field of cellular agriculture law. It tracks and maps the development of socio-legal frameworks applicable to cell-cultivation technologies as they are used in food innovation. More fundamentally, this work also questions whether potentially unavoidable socio-technical scenarios demand a reconceptualization of intellectual property that is mindful of human ingenuity as an infinite resource, as opposed to perpetuating a paradigm of exhaustion of rights.

The second strand of inquiry, Future Flight, studies governance mechanisms for civilian drone usage and its implications for the promotion of innovation through ‘regulation by IP’, asking about the role of agility in ‘smart’ governance and whether there is sufficient evidence of a novel phenomenon, that of ‘regulatory activism’. Both interdisciplinary studies aim at contributing new perspectives in the study of the law and the connection between law, innovation and technology, hoping to make an original and significant intervention in current debates about how to address pressing global challenges in legal scholarship, public policy and incipient markets.

Future Foods: Regulatory Theories of Innovation and Legal-Philosophical Intellectual Property

Interdisciplinary work related to Future Foods critically engages with theories of regulation for innovation and legal-philosophical debates about the nature of IP rights.

In a first instance, this work identifies and examines a paradigm shift in the underpinnings regulating the production of novel foods for human consumption, from the long-established ‘farm to table’ to the emerging ‘lab to table’ paradigm. Using tissue engineering and bioprocessing to create animal protein from stem cells, cell-cultivation appears to have reached technological maturity and is expected to become available for sale directly to consumers in the UK as early as 2023. The implications are numerous and significant, with far-reaching effects on how we address sustainability dilemmas and public policy imperatives, including climate change mitigation, food insecurity and animal welfare. Legal research in this area is critical, as these disruptive technologies promise to redefine fundamental elements of life by changing the way we perceive, behave, socialise and even eat in the future. Confront the law with an array of issues, from responses to risks in light of scientific uncertainty, labelling and consumer protection, restrictions on international trade and investment to intellectual property limitations, cellular agriculture as a new

In a second instance, Future Foods engages in two main legal-philosophical debates about the nature of intellectual property (IP) rights as presently conceived: those related to exhaustion and intellectual commons. Inextricably intertwined with the emergence of transformative technologies, one dominant rationale behind IP protection is the promise of reward for intellectual creation, to the exclusion of others. There is no exception for cellular agriculture. From trade secrets to patents and trademarks, this novel production method confronts innovators, manufacturers, regulators and consumers with an array of challenges. What we understand as IP, and how we engage with it, will shape the contours of academic discourse, public policy debates and entrepreneurial success. Equally, encountering IP law at a multiplicity of levels, cellular agriculture as an emerging field of inquiry appears to challenge Lockean approaches to IP as a legal monopoly, questioning their limits to promote social progress. My work intervenes in this debate by exploring IP rights in cellular agriculture to elucidate the extent to which they are deployed to generate optimal public welfare. The central tenet of the proposition, that ‘open science’ may be a critical element in a flourishing innovation ecosystem, reflects on the significance of calibrating IP rights to display societal benefits, and on the potential to construe cell-cultivation technology as a ‘technology of abundance’. In other words, the argument here is not that IP rights necessarily have to be operationalised as scarce resources to enable innovation. Rather, this long-held presumption of exhaustion is explored through a public interest lens, contending that IP law can invigorate multiple tonalities in new, sustainable global economic governance mechanisms, while being mindful of, and in fact amplifying, a variety of seemingly unrelated elements uniting to address complex social challenges. I also attempt at offering some reflections on reconciling diverging jurisdictional approaches to ‘regulation by IP’ that takes account of emerging legal risks in a post-scarcity economy.

On a related line, if legal systems have the ability to create parameters that will determine whether and to what extent societal change will happen, it stands to reason that the effectiveness of a legal system will be directly correlated to the level of granularity with which it mirrors social realities. As a result, I also critically engage in the proposition that we currently lack an integrated understanding of the nature, causes and implications of regulatory shifts that appropriately deal with transformative biotechnologies in knowledge societies. With the aim of gaining a better understanding of ‘knowledge society’ epistemologies, I preliminarily posit that, to avoid ‘a tragedy of the intellectual commons’, IP rights demand to be governed by agile, responsive, ‘smart’ regulatory approaches. I also deliberate on whether the calibration of IP rights with public policy imperatives has gained renewed importance in light of growing calls for open science, to continue innovation promotion by rewarding intellectual creation without hindering sustained social progress. This work combines theoretical and doctrinal legal approaches along with insights from political and economic theories on regulation and governance, to look at some of the most pressing legal questions in tension, balancing the demands of pressing social challenges, such as climate change and food insecurity, with the benefits of innovation, transformative biotechnologies and the creation of an intellectual commons.

Future Flight: Experimentalist Governance, Resilient Policy and Regulatory Activism

The second strand of my research work examines governance mechanisms for non-military drones. This work starts from the premise that there is significant potential for drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), to be used for delivery applications. Funded by UKRI (ESRC/Innovate UK) for collaborative, interdisciplinary work, our research group is particularly interested in such innovations as they offer the prospect of meaningful pro-social economic value in densely populated and remote areas. For this research, we use the term ‘governance’ to denote the multiplicity of laws, policies and regulations, domestic, regional and international that are critical in determining the extent to applied to help achieve legitimate arrangements (among others, [Maidana-Eletti] de Amstalden 2015). For UAS to reach their potential in terms of social, environmental and economic benefits, it is vital to understand numerous factors beyond technology, including governance arrangements that may enable or constrain the operation and potential of Future Flight transport systems. Although a key antecedent of trust in drones is inevitably trust in drone governance, research to date has been largely technological system centred – trust as a function of perceived safety, of level of experience or level of information. Broader questions of ‘governance’ are typically reduced to consideration as a barrier to adoption, a pragmatic challenge for better planning or regulation to ‘solve’. We consider this response as too limited and narrow, and this is precisely what we aim to address in this work.

Against this backdrop, I also study regulatory agility and judicial activism as two discrete but significant phenomena that provide the basis for an incipient paradigm of ‘regulatory activism’, whereby technical regulation, with its potentially lower levels of parliamentary scrutiny, is instrumentalised to exert significant normative pull and advance an activist public policy agenda, most predominantly found in one-party states.

Both strands of research are interdisciplinary and collaborative by nature, and aim at bringing a diverse range of socio-legal methods and political-economic theories to bear on technological innovations.

Law Futures: Pluralism in Risk Regulation

At its core, my work analyses different legal and regulatory frameworks as part of the dense web of global governance innovation, and its implications for intellectual property rights. In doing so, it asks whether and to what extent there is a need to pre-emptively design anticipatory laws for progressively uncertain futures. It also considers the impact of growing trends in geopolitical fragmentation, de-globalisation and de-legalisation to identify and evaluate competing ambiguities in an international legal system that is increasingly principled-based, questioning the appropriateness and legacy of the previously effective rules-based world order.

If there is a school to follow, my research priorities sit neatly within the school of global legal pluralism and attempts at contributing to the emergence of ‘cosmopolitan jurisprudential analysis’, further emphasising pluralistic approaches to Law Futures. In particular, I engage in various analysis of anticipatory, progressive risk regulation potentially understood as prefigurative law reform, lending Law Futures an alternative critical legal thinking approach. Looking at prefigurative social movements as an alternative to state-centric approaches to governance, I also consider how law and regulation are crafted, or can be crafted, to complement sustainable jurisgenerative action.

In a nutshell, applying novel lenses to established paradigms, my research work at present aims at making a theoretical and normative, impactful and original contribution to a growing body of scholarship in the legal sciences at the intersection of law, technology, science and innovation. A number of publications are in preparation, under review and in press. If this area of research is of interest, please get in contact!

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