Jack of All Trades, Master of Law

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News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

School of Law


Top 40 radio DJ, stand-up comic, inventor, intellectual property litigator, entertainment lawyer, writer, inventor, web programmer, start-up founder and University of North Dakota law professor, there’s not much Eric E. Johnson hasn’t done or can’t do.

At UND, Johnson's primary scholarly interests are intellectual property and the intersection of science and law. He relishes being in the classroom teaching the next generation of lawyers torts; intellectual property and patent law; media and entertainment law; sports Law; as well as antitrust, bankruptcy and consumer law.

Johnson's background – both personal and professional – makes him uniquely suited for the job. After graduating from Harvard Law in 2000, Johnson, 43, 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. There he worked in patent infringement in the video-game industry, copyright infringement of a television series, breach of a motion-picture director's contract and breach of a profit-participation clause in a television executive-producer's contract. He later became in-house counsel to Fox Cable Networks in Los Angeles, drafting and negotiating deals for Fox Sports Net and Fox College Sports.

Outside of his legal career, Professor Johnson, a native of Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., was a top-40 radio disc jockey, a stand-up comic, and a consultant at an early-stage internet start-up.

"I was a disc jockey at 97.3 KWNZ FM in Reno, Nevada," Johnson says. "That's the station I grew up listening to, and it's where I went to work in 1994 after college. I started out doing the overnight shift, and within a few months I was doing drive-time. I loved it. I would jump out of bed at 3:30 in the morning without hitting snooze to head into work to get ready to do the morning show. "I started doing stand-up comedy in the San Francisco Bay Area after radio and before law school. Probably the highlight of my comedy career was doing a week-long stint at the comedy club in my hometown at the Reno Hilton."

In 2005, he was awarded a patent on a headrest he invented for people, such as his father, who suffered from dementia with Parkinson's symptoms.

"With his Parkinson’s symptoms, he tended to lean to one side, and his head needed lateral support for him to be able to sit upright in a chair. So I put the headrest together to help him," Johnson said."Getting the patent afterward was rewarding, but it wasn't my motivation in creating the device."

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. He’s also taught as a visiting professor at Texas Tech University School of Law.

Johnson’s law research and published works made international news in 2010 when he wrote about legal unknowns surrounding the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), dubbed “Black Hole” machine, which straddles the French-Swiss border. His published works posed the question of what a court should do if ever faced with a preliminary injunction to halt LHC experiments that plaintiffs claim could create a black hole that could devour the planet. In addition, he has been active in researching behavioral economics regarding exclusive rights and their presumed role in incentivizing intellectual property development. He's also finishing work on a major new casebook on torts, the general law of seeing for injuries. Johnson’s wide-ranging academic research garnered him the Robert Johnson Research Fellow Award from UND in 2011.

"The only thing that has been a bigger rush for me than radio and comedy is teaching law. The students at UND are the ideal audience: They are engaged, enthusiastic, and incredibly talented. They also challenge me and keep me on my toes," Johnson said. "That's why teaching is so much better than radio or comedy – the students have me continuously learning and growing. And hopefully I'm helping them do the same."