Intellectual property is extremely valuable and important to protect, and navigating this process can be a daunting, complicated, and expensive undertaking—particularly for student entrepreneurs and innovators.
Enter Northeastern’s Intellectual Property Law Clinic.
Led by law students, under guidance of faculty and staff, the clinic provides a range of IP-related legal information and services to students and ventures in the university’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Its goal is to enhance the campus innovation environment and provide opportunities for law students to gain practical experience. Working collaboratively with students and faculty across disciplines, the lawyers-in-training develop and deliver intellectual property knowledge while supporting student entrepreneurship.
Shane Riehl, L’15, served as one of the clinic’s teaching assistants in fall 2014, and then graduated from Northeastern’s JD/MBA dual-degree program in the School of Law and the D’Amore-McKim School of Business in May. “Legal services are one of the more expensive things going into a startup,” he said, adding that new ventures must understand the legal landscape of the industry they’re entering.
The clinic launched two years ago as a pilot project, and since last fall has been operating each fall and winter law school quarter with plans to expand to all four quarters. Law students enroll just as they would in any other course and must devote at least 20 hours a week to the clinic. The students work both collaboratively and individually on projects for clients, which have ranged from startups to capstones to student-run campus organizations. The law students meet for weekly “rounds”to discuss their client projects.
Because the clinic’s law students aren’t yet licensed lawyers, there are some limits on the legal services they can provide. However, the students produce memos and conduct research on a range of topics, from trademark and patent law to employment and contractual agreements. In certain cases, they also refer some clients to the Center for Research Innovation and legal practitioners in the Boston community.
Northeastern’s Intellectual Property Law Clinic is believed to be the only such law school clinic in the U.S. in which students are in charge of selecting their clients and projects and negotiating the terms of engagement. The clinic works closely with IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator, to help identify potential clients in need of intellectual property guidance. The clinic also collaborates with other student organizations and university groups as well as the Center for Research Innovation.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for law students to participate and contribute to the innovation ecosystem on campus,” said faculty adviser Susan Montgomery, who holds joint appointments in the law school and D’Amore-McKim. She added that the clinic also provides opportunities for students to collaborate with faculty on IP learning modules, policies, and workshops while they hone skills they will apply to their legal careers.
One of the clinic’s recent clients was Scout, the student-run design studio. Laura Marelic, AMD’15, Scout’s former CEO , said the clinic delivered a presentation to the group’s management team and provided the organization with an overview of intellectual property law as it relates to designers. She said the clinic proved to be a critical resource in terms of helping Scout develop the contracts it uses between clients and its student designers, noting that “They were a huge resource for us.”
Nana Liu, L’15, participated in the clinic both as a student and as a teaching assistant, allowing her to immerse herself in Northeastern’s flourishing entrepreneurship network.
“This clinic afforded me the chance to get out on campus and participate more in the Northeastern community at large,” said Lui, noting times when the clinic held office hours at the Husky Startup Challenge and presented at an Entrepreneurs Club meeting. These experiences, she added, helped her learn more about the intersection of law and business.