Friday, February 18, 2022

WIPIP 2022, Serving underserved communities via IP Clinics

 Elizabeth Townsend Gard (co-moderator)

Leah Chan Grinvald (co-moderator)

Lolita Darden

Jordi Goodman

Emma Perot

Gard: Trend for entrepreneurial clinics that cover all kinds of IP along with other things. CASE Act: called for comments on clinic participation in this new system: will it work for a clinic timeline?

Darden: IP and Entrepreneurship clinic, very broad. Mostly small/emerging businesses. Write patent applications. Income thresholds, using Patent Office’s standards for small enough to serve.

Goodman: Startup Law clinic: incorporation, TM, contract formation. Gets you in and gets you started. Tech Law clinic: makes sure you don’t fall off a cliff. FDA, HIPAA, privacy, patents, FAA drone rules, etc. Help MIT students, not income based. Designed to make students feel that they have access to attorneys, separate from university. Working on getting word out to community; law students get to talk to MIT students about the value they add.

Bill McGeveran: working on Name Image & Likeness clinic, focused on student athletes’ new abilities to capitalize on their ROP. Won’t be limited to students, but will be for individuals.

Georgetown: represent public interest organizations.

Gard: playing w/idea of incubator, 3-week intense sessions.

Perot: For University of West Indies, wants a clinic focused on students and other locals. Serious questions about how to commercialize IP; very few litigated cases, most interactions are informal. Goal is partly educational: laws are in place, and IP has value. People only come to IP when it’s too late, something has already gone wrong. Tourism/oil and gas are dominant but need development of creative industries. University is underfunded: 550 students, $1 million in fees, costs $2 million for faculty. So we are trying for a “revenue revolution,” including by using IP, especially patents.

Gard: what are the alternatives to traditional clinic client relationships?
Goodman: Alumni network used to make connections w/clinics. Contract w/MIT: obligated to help every student who comes to us. That can be a struggle. Balancing the experiences of students—ensuring they have a full plate but are not overloaded. We take clients slowly through the process b/c vast majority of clients have never encountered a lawyer before—do a lot of education as a primary mission both to get students used to giving legal advice, and to saying yes or no, and also to get MIT students to respect young lawyers, women lawyers, lawyers of color. Our goals of serving the community are beyond “getting a final legal product.” If a client needs something sooner, we refer out; supervisors can also recognize a crisis.

Darden: Only has 8 students. So there’s only so much we can do. We get many more applications than we can serve. Try to ID law firms to take on some clients the clinic can’t. That’s worked out well, particularly in the patent space; does preliminary screening for firms to refer out. Mass. has pro bono hours requirement so firms are very receptive, but again that’s only a small number of requests. Has also ID’d other nonprofits in Mass. that may be able to help with, e.g., forming a business; people who have good ideas but not quite a business plan get referred to the SBA or the Business School. A lot of people don’t know how to value IP/what is protectable for them.

Rosenblatt: CASE Act may be challenging for clinics b/c there’s not a lot of legal rigor to it and b/c it’s uncertain—you might recommend a P try it but also that a D opt out. So what is the most valuable work for a clinic to do? Long term spanning multiple semesters, discrete “application” situations, something else?

Darden: We have both models. Has some clients for 6-7 years, depending on where they are in development. But most have discrete needs: patent or TM application. Valuable to help as many clients as we can—the community is creative and innovative but hasn’t had resources to protect IP. So getting out there is important. Partnering w/area chambers of commerce to generate interest.

Goodman: Likes a mix. Students like having a short term project so they can have a success. But a full year clinic can take on larger, more in depth projects. Frustrating for students to not be able to follow a client all the way, but student interests drive assignments.

Perot: one challenge is culture of informality. If something goes wrong there is no evidence of what was agreed. Teaching people that properly drafted contracts are not scary is important; current drafting practices are archaic and hard to understand, so people resist signing them.

Goodman: empowering students is a big challenge, and that is also about empowering students who don’t see themselves in previous generations of lawyers.

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