Innovation's new nerve center

Thomas Jefferson said, "Where a new invention promises to be useful, it ought to be tried."

The U. S. Patent and Trademark Office has decided that Detroit is where some of those new inventions should be examined, and that Wayne Law students will play an integral role in the effort.

Local entrepreneurs and innovators celebrated the July 13 opening of the first satellite office of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), located in the Stroh River Place Complex. With it comes a prestigious new Patent Procurement Clinic at Wayne Law, where qualifying patent clients will get legal services at no charge.

Wayne Law is the only school in Michigan -- and among fewer than 20 law schools nationwide - chosen by the USPTO for a participating patent clinic certified as part of the office's pilot program. The selected schools were praised for their excellent IP curriculum, effective outreach to the community, and comprehensive client services.

David Kappos, director of the USPTO in Washington, D.C., called it "a wonderful program" that is expanding, and said an expedited process is used for patent applications that come out of the participating clinics.

"I think it's great for Michigan and Detroit and Wayne State to have the patent office in Detroit, and the small inventor community here in Detroit should be pleased," said Teresa Stanek Rea, deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and a Wayne Law alumna.

The new Detroit office will mean "jobs, jobs, jobs," Kappos said. "For the first time in history, we are bringing the patent office to the innovation community and not the other way around... We also will be using this new office as a hub of interacting with the university community."

Wayne Law Assistant Professor Eric Williams, who directs the Business and Community Law Clinic comprising the new Patent Procurement Clinic as well as a small business module and a nonprofit module, is excited about the "incredible resource" the new Detroit satellite patent office will be for his students and for the community.

He and other faculty members and alumni worked hard on the application process.

"Given the strength of our faculty and our alumni network, we submitted a compelling application," Williams said. "The clinic's close relationship with the area's business incubators creates a natural conduit for clients. However, I believe what set our application apart was that our clinic's design encourages students to interact with the law firms, investors, incubators, inventors, property owners, aspiring entrepreneurs, small business owners, community stakeholders and government agencies that make up the area's business and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our location in Detroit and our role as a public institution and resource gives the clinic the potential to support urban entrepreneurship and community development in a meaningful way. These kinds of interactions are invaluable to students who want to learn how to really practice. I don't think many other clinics can say that."

Wayne Law faculty members worked with alumnus Christopher Darrow, an experienced patent attorney, to draft the application and a syllabus for the patent portion of the clinic. Thomas Helmholdt, another experienced patent attorney, will teach the patent portion of the clinic, which will offer legal services free of charge, although clients must pay filing fees.

"We expect that our patent clients will be similar to the many start-up tech clients we currently serve," Williams said. "The clinic has been meeting with all the local business/technology incubators to inform them of the new patent procurement services that the clinic is now offering, and to let the incubators know our clinic is now accepting applications for new clients for the patent side of the clinic. We have already met with TechTown, Bizdom, OU Incubator and others. Based on our initial meetings with incubators, we expect our students will be working on some very interesting inventions."

Having the patent clinic at Wayne Law in conjunction with the new satellite USPTO will offer other advantages for students.

"One example is that the clinic and Wayne Law's patent law program will benefit from having regular guest speakers from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office," Williams said. "Most notably, Deputy Director and Wayne alumna Teresa Stanek Rea has offered to speak at the Law School. Another example is that all of our students will be using the new Detroit patent office's public search room to conduct novelty searches to help identify patentable inventions.

"Having a patent office here in Detroit is going to make Detroit a nerve center for the patent law community, just like Detroit is the nerve center for the automobile industry. Detroiters like to say, 'We hustle harder.' We also innovate harder. The key is harnessing all that energy, hustle and innovation."

Published: Fri, Jul 27, 2012