Seth Shelden

2016 Fulbright Specialist Program
Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law, Yeshiva University
Affiliation in Japan: Toyo University

Core Values: Fulbright Puts Shelden on Path to Working with Nobel-Laureate Anti-Nuclear Weapons Group

Nuclear weapons, intellectual property law and a Fulbright Fellowship are an odd mix.

For attorney and Professor Seth Shelden, however, his month-long fellowship in Japan brought disparate times and themes of his academic life together – putting him on the path to joining an organization that earned the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. The Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, won for its successful effort to advance a global nuclear weapons ban, adopted at the U.N. General Assembly last July by 122 nations. (Some 60 nations are signatories, but no current nuclear weapon states are yet.)

In the autumn of 2016, Prof. Shelden was a Fulbright Specialist Program fellow at Toyo University in Tokyo, lecturing on the U.S. patent, trademark and copyright system and comparing it to its Japanese counterpart. After the fellowship, he remained in Japan through December, speaking and traveling across the country – including stops at the targets of U.S. atomic bombs in 1945.

“It was visiting Japan for the first time and going to Hiroshima and Nagasaki that made me reconnect with my undergraduate studies, including my honors thesis, in the law of nuclear weapons and international humanitarian law,” says the City University of New York School of Law adjunct law professor. “It does make a difference to be walking in the place where it happened. There’s no substitute for that kind of intimacy.

“When I returned to the U.S., I promised myself that I would engage in the nuclear-weapon ban negotiations at the U.N. And, ever since, I have been working on the negotiations, and then the adoption, and now the ratification and entry into force, of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” he says. “Fulbright changed my life.”

In Japan, a rekindled interest in international law and disarmament was coupled with furthering his IP-related studies and obtaining context-specific expertise, which otherwise would be impossible to get elsewhere, including at law firms, law schools, and the Japan Patent Office, says Prof. Shelden.

“I acquired useful knowledge and understanding about Japanese intellectual property law, Japanese law more generally, and professional practices relating to my field,” he says. “I also learned much about Japanese culture, society and language that influences my understanding about academics, the legal practice and international relations.”

Fulbright’s Specialist Program, which runs for two to six weeks, enables academics and established professionals to lecture and develop skills or curriculums for a host school. Candidates apply to be listed on a roster for three years, for potentially multiple visits to different countries, but must find a host. Or an institution must request a specific specialist from the list and justify its choice.

Through today’s version of cold calling – an email sent out of the blue, Prof. Shelden connected with a copyright law expert at Toyo University, Kazuhiro Ando. Today, they’re collaborating on some projects, including a book on legal issues in the music business and an exchange program for Toyo students, and Prof. Shelden has advised some of Prof. Ando’s students about studying in the U.S.

“Especially for such a short experience, the program far exceeded my expectations in what I was able to learn and do. In large part, it was due to how incredibly gracious and interested my host professor was,” says Prof. Shelden, who learned of the short-term program while on a 2012-2013 Fulbright in Latvia. “Prof. Ando and I still communicate with some frequency.”

Inform scholarship, deepen interests and skills, and nurture new ties, understanding and friendships – Fulbright offers much. And in some cases, as in his, it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s truly transformative.

In my own words

“When in Japan as a Fulbrighter, I recommend that you make the most of your experience by saying ‘yes’ to everything possible. When someone proposes that you speak at their class, even if it is not your field, say yes. When someone offers to introduce you to a strange-looking cuisine, say yes. When someone proposes taking you to a local sento (public bath), say yes. As an American, you may find few other countries in the industrialized world that can provide as different an experience as Japan.” – Prof. Seth Shelden