Patent clinic celebrates successful first year

Students, clients and professors are singing the praises of Wayne State University Law School's new Patent Procurement Law Clinic after its first year.

Wayne Law developed the clinic last year, and it's the only school in Michigan -- and among only a few dozen law schools nationwide -- chosen by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a participating clinic certified for the office's pilot program. The clinic's legal services are free of charge to qualifying clients, and are provided by upper-level law students with degrees in engineering or science supervised by Professor Thomas Helmholdt, a patent attorney since 1988.

"The clinic started out with a tremendous first semester," he said. "Clinic director Professor Eric Williams and our staff assistant, Min Jian Huang, were instrumental in coordinating with incoming students and getting the clinic running smoothly last fall."

From the start, the clinic has had a "steady stream" of small business startups and inventors looking for legal help to get patent protection, he said.

"In the first semester, the clinic received more applications from prospective clients than the initial student class could handle," Helmholdt said. "The accepted clients were selected based on the technology of the client's invention and the prior educational and work experience background of the students in the clinic, the potential benefit to Michigan's economy of the invention, and the economic need of the client."

The five students participating in the clinic's first semester have educational backgrounds that included biomedical engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, manufacturing engineering, materials engineering and mechanical engineering. And all are hoping to practice patent law some day.

"I learned a tremendous amount and gained valuable hands-on experience that will definitely help me when I step foot into my first job as a patent attorney," said law student Tiane Brown, who has a master's degree in biomedical engineering and a master's degree in business administration. "I chose to study patent law because it offered me an opportunity to utilize my engineering skills in the legal field. The clinic is run like a mini law firm, so it is a great opportunity to have in preparation for an internship or a job in an intellectual property firm."

Helmholdt, who is teaching two patent clinic courses this semester involving eight students, took the first-semester students on a tour of the new USPTO Detroit Satellite Office and introduced them to its services and staff.

"Students had the opportunity to get online in the Public Search Room and to conduct a patent search for their clients," he said. "The clinic also envisions partnering with the Detroit Office on future projects relating to public education regarding the patent process."

The clinic's first-semester clients have been enthusiastic about its services, Helmholdt said. A new website ( has been launched to offer news and updates on the progress of the clinic's clients in the future.

"As an entrepreneur who is developing a small startup company, I found the WSU PPLC to be an indispensable asset," said clinic client Marc Alpern of Marc Alpern Design LLC.

"Professor Helmholdt did a great job helping one of his students file a utility patent documenting an invention of mine," said clinic client Kenan Wollborg, an innovation engineer with Innovate ED.

Clinic student Younghoon Jang, who has degrees in electrical engineering, computer engineering and Korean law, said he enjoyed working with clients in a setting that offers students "full experience."

"I had a great time with my client, and successfully field a patent application," he said. "Before Wayne Law, I had worked for Korean intellectual property law firms for over seven years. Most of my clients are large-scale companies that need worldwide IP protection. While products and services, including IP matters, quickly spread worldwide, there is no uniform worldwide system for IP protection. That is why I came to the United States."

As the clinic grows and thrives, it will be able to help more clients and train more law students.

"The inventor clients we had first semester were all enthusiastic about their inventions and had a lot of appreciation for the clinic," said clinic student Bonnie Smith, whose undergraduate degree is in materials science and engineering. "I think once the clinic is more publicized and grows in both students and clients, it has the potential to draw some interesting and varying technology. The patent clinic is very beneficial to Wayne State, Detroit and the surrounding communities."

Published: Thu, Apr 18, 2013