Law Professor John H. Barton dies of bike-accident injuries

Legal career emphasized the interface between science and the law and international law

John H. Barton, 72, a Stanford University law professor whose career emphasized the interface between science and the law, was pronounced dead Aug. 3 as a result of injuries he sustained in a bicycle accident in Los Altos July 14.

The accident is still under investigation by the Los Altos Police Department, which is looking into the possibility of hit-and-run based on the type of injuries and circumstances at the scene, near Arboretum and Aspen drives, according to family members. Barton suffered numerous broken bones and a skull fracture, more than would be normal in a simple fall.

Barton had been a member of the Stanford faculty since 1969, and retired from full-time teaching in 2002. He was co-director of the International Center for Law and Technology, and won a prestigious student award for excellence in teaching in 1980. He held the George E. Osborne professorship at Stanford.

He was the father of Palo Alto City Councilman John Barton, a Palo Alto architect, and four other children.

Barton was best known for his work in exploring "the intersection of science and the law," according to his Stanford website biography.

He focused his studies on international law concerns that ranged from national defense to protection of intellectual property in developing nations.

He recently was focusing on technology transfer between advanced and developing nations in areas such as vaccines, steel and climate-change technologies. He also was working on developing a political theory as a basis for international organization and globalization.

During his career he chaired more than a dozen academic and international advisory commissions, most recently heading the International Commission on Intellectual Property Rights.

Barton graduated cum laude from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1954, and from Marquette University magna cum laude in 1958 with majors in philosophy and physics. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1961 as a junior officer analyzing foreign technical materials. From 1961 to 1969 he worked at the Sylvania Electronic Defense Laboratories in Mountain View as a research engineer and administrator.

He joined the law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, D.C., for a year prior to joining the Stanford Law School.

In the mid-1980s, he co-founded a consulting firm, International Technology Management, that studies trade patterns in services, technology, agriculture and biotechnology in agriculture.

He was the author of numerous articles and several books, including "The Politics of Peace" in 1981. He co-edited "Words over War: Mediation and Arbitration to Prevent Deadly Conflict," published in 2000.

Barton is survived by his wife of 50 years, Julie Barton; five children, John, Robert, Anne Wilde, Thomas and David; and nine (soon to be 10) grandchildren.

Councilman Barton said his father had been auditing courses at Stanford since his retirement from full-time teaching. He enjoyed woodworking, painting and playing the organ -- he was taking lessons from the Stanford Memorial Church organist.

A memorial service has been scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 16, at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1715 Grant Road, Los Altos.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Chandler
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2009 at 1:50 pm

John Barton was a kind and gentle man whose contributions can not be measured by the enumeration of his accomplishments and publications, many and impressive though they were.

In the fall of 1978, he was my first year law school “small section” professor, teaching me Contracts. He cared a great deal about teaching, and I have many vivid memories from first year of the gentle way in which he made sure everyone in the section understood the principles he was explaining. I'm sure first year Contracts was an unexciting assignment for him as a professor, but he opened up for me a whole new way of thinking about the way people interact in business settings -- from the personal to the global transaction -- how expectations are set, what the law can and can't do for those who are unhappy with the way their transactions worked out. He forced us every day to stand in the shoes of the parties to each of the cases we read. He had one funny habit, too -- there was chalk and blackboards in those days, and he like to press his hand against his lips when waiting for a student to give an answer. By the end of each class, he inevitably had a bright white vertical stripe on his mouth.

He had made a big mid-career switch, from engineer to law teacher, and his interest in things that were real and measurable always played an active role in his approach to the more abstract legal issues we dealt with. In recent years I’ve sat with him at dinners at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and at law school functions, and had the chance to chat with him about patents and other intellectual property issues he was working on, an interest he took up later in life. I understand from Dean Larry Kramer that Professor Barton had thoroughly reengaged at the Law School. He had original ideas about how to sort out current issues, and had read some pieces I had written or been quoted in, and had very cogent questions -- aiming toward an understanding of the practical to make sure his theories would have real world relevance.

In many ways, he's a symbol to me of what Stanford Law School meant to me -- a very practical man, without ego, eager to teach, eager to learn for himself, and tied to the real world by understanding something of the realms of science and engineering. There was nothing about this man that is not to be admired and emulated.

Mark Chandler, General Counsel, Cisco Systems, Inc.

Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 7, 2009 at 9:13 am

Does anyone have more information about the hit-and-run investigation? It is a real tragedy if a car driver hit the professor and then just left him to die on the side of the road.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 7, 2009 at 11:48 am

Prof barton , rest peacefully.

Like this comment
Posted by Pat Barrett
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 7, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I echo the thoughts expressed by Mark Chandler. John Barton was also one of my law school professors in the field of international law. John and I were already friends before I went to law school, and his fairmindedness was obvious in the way he treated all the students in the class as equals.

John's deep knowledge and keen insight made it challenging and enjoyable to study under him. He was also ahead of his time in many areas he pursued. For example, he guided me in studiying the interplay of international law and intellectual property law before the term "intellectual property" had caught on. Discussions with him were one of the high points of my Stanford Law School education.

John maintained an interest in what his former students were doing and what new insights they were gaining. I feel blessed to have known John, to have studied under him and to have been able to engage with him over the years.

Pat Barrett

Like this comment
Posted by sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 1, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Is more information available about the hit-and-run investigation?

Like this comment
Posted by Tamali Sen Gupta
a resident of Stanford
on May 13, 2010 at 2:04 am

I was Professor Barton's JSD student till 1991. He was a wonderful and kind teacher. I learnt so much from him and yet never really thanked him for all that he did for me. It's too late now, but I really would like to contact his family. Does anyone have a way to get through to Julie Barton or his son John or other family? Please mail me at tamalisg

Dr. Tamali Sen Gupta
New Delhi, India

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