IU Maurer School of Law's Intellectual Property Clinic pairs students with state's most innovative start-ups
Mar. 2, 2016
Protecting ideas here in Indiana and potentially saving lives around the world: Those are powerful motivators for IU law students providing free services to entrepreneurs through the Maurer School of Law’s Intellectual Property Clinic.
Headed up by prominent intellectual property lawyer Norman Hedges, the one-year-old clinic has already given several second- and third-year Maurer law students the chance to represent clients statewide who wouldn’t otherwise be able to protect their ideas and inventions.
“We are filling the gap for those who just can’t afford IP services,” Hedges said. “It’s the classic chicken and egg thing. Without protection you can’t get funding, and without funding you can’t get protection.”
Formerly a partner in the Indianapolis office of Faegre Baker Daniels, Hedges joined Maurer as clinical associate professor of law and director of the Intellectual Property Clinic in January 2015. He continues to build the clinic’s client base through key partnerships with organizations like the IU Research and Technology Corp., the Purdue Foundry, the Indiana Small Business Development Center and the Crane Division Naval Surface Warfare Center. These strategic partners vet potential clients, so students are often working with some of the state’s most innovative, albeit underfunded, start-ups.
In his second semester with the clinic, second-year law student Andre Adkins is inspired by the exposure he has received through the program.
“I didn’t realize that we would get to work with such high-caliber clients from all over Indiana,” Adkins said. “We're seeing technologies and creations that involve a wide range of issues.”
One such client is the Indianapolis-based Alma Sana Inc. The nonprofit’s mission -- ensure that every child gets timely, life-saving vaccinations -- is based on founder Lauren Braun’s simple but unique concept of an immunization reminder bracelet. After initially applying to patent her bracelet design -- a costly process that required twice the anticipated money and time -- Braun had all but given up on patenting her life-saving idea. Then last year, a social enterprise lawyer she met in Indianapolis introduced her to Hedges.
“Our work with the clinic has allowed us to pick up where we left off,” Braun said. “The IP clinic is looking out for those organizations, who without the resources are up against significant barriers. They give small start-ups like Alma Sana peace of mind that their ideas will be protected.”
Brett Bostrom, the senior associate on the Alma Sana account and a second-year law student, is leading the team in overcoming the current barrier: preparing a response to proposed arguments from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“Alma Sana is the type of case that motivates me,” Bostrom said. “The clinic provides valuable services for those who need protection. With protection comes funding and, in this case, the chance to make a real difference in the world.”
It is exactly this sort of hands-on learning opportunity Hedges hoped to provide when he was named the clinic’s first director. A graduate of Maurer, he has enjoyed returning as a faculty member.
“Mentoring is a big reason I decided to return to IU to direct the clinic,” Hedges said. “It is rewarding to see the students take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it through interactions with clients. They learn how to explain concepts and terminology and really connect with clients. I feel strongly that you have to actually put into practice something that you have learned to master the subject matter."
In his second semester with the clinic, Bostrom appreciates the advantages the experience will provide him in his future law career.
“The interactions we are having now at the clinic will help form our instincts later,” Bostrom said. “It is important that we are more than just patent draftsman. We need to engage clients in a strategic process to help them reach their objectives.”
Hedges plans to expand the work of the clinic to coincide with the growth in technology and innovation efforts throughout Indiana.
“Along with supporting existing programs and employers statewide, the clinic’s work will complement IU’s new engineering program by taking those discoveries and making them applicable services and products,” Hedges said.
As one of only a handful of programs in the country that is certified in both patent and trademark law under the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Law School Clinic Certification Program, the clinic is equipped to serve a broad cross section of the Indiana business community. Though some law firms might see the clinic as competition, Hedges said they are actually helping clients get to the point where they can afford paid legal counsel.
“In the real world, you don’t want to lose clients,” Hedges said. “But at the clinic, success means that our clients can leave us because we have helped them move their projects along enough to secure funding to afford paid legal counsel.”
To reach a broader audience, students from the clinic are also involved in several community outreach programs at IU and around the state. See the Center for Intellectual Property Research upcoming events for details.
The Intellectual Property Clinic aligns with several priorities in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success and building a prosperous and innovative Indiana.