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Supporting entrepreneurship and innovation through tech-enabled lawyers of the future

June 02, 2020

A partnership between Penn Law’s Detkin Intellectual Property and Technology Legal Clinic and CPA Global prepares law students for careers of the future through the use of sophisticated tech tools.

For the past few years, something radical has been happening at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Detkin Intellectual Property and Technology Legal Clinic (DIPTC).

Bringing together commercial and legal innovation, the DIPTC is enabling entrepreneurial enterprises to maximize value from their IP, and helping budding lawyers future-proof their careers, through exposure to the advanced tech tools that are increasingly essential in IP work.

The DIPTC joined forces with CPA Global to provide students with access to their comprehensive patent data and analytics software, Innography.

CPA Global Group CEO, Simon Webster, described the partnership as the ‘democratization of IP in action’. Highlighting the importance of setting students and nascent enterprises up for success, Webster said ‘innovation used to be the preserve of major corporate R&D spenders, but by harnessing the digitalization of the economy and new opportunities such as the gig economy, there is now greater potential than ever for innovative minds to make their ideas a reality. One of the key barriers, though, to achieving smarter, faster, more commercially successful innovation has traditionally been the analogue IP system. It’s our mission to remove the friction that stifles invention and to enable legal teams to better support ambitious businesses of all shapes and sizes through best-of-breed IP technology.”

The driving force behind this ground-breaking program is the DIPTC Director Cynthia Dahl, an expert in the business applications of IP and technology. Dahl transferred out of her in-house counsel job as Senior IP Counsel at a Liberty Media-owned international wireless location company to develop and lead the “teaching law firm” that gives students the chance to help real-life clients set and implement their IP strategy.

Working with 16 students and between 25-30 clients per year, which range from ventures from Penn’s Wharton School students or alumni with a dream (or a dream with commercial potential) to other ambitious inventors and businesses from the Philadelphia area, the DIPTC uses Innography in a variety of ways. For example, students help ventures assess the patentability of inventions, appraise the strength of competitors’ portfolios, or evaluate the “freedom to operate” (the ability to commercialize or use a product without infringing another company’s patents) in a given area. Students also use the tool to help identify “white space” in the market, and recommend how to adapt products to fit market needs and capitalize on these opportunities.

Equipping students for efficiency and effectiveness

Dahl describes the opportunity to use Innography for the DIPTC client work as good for both clients and students: “It’s been a spectacular experience! It really helps businesses get the most out of their IP, and it’s invaluable for students. They learn how to use a sophisticated IP tool, which will only help them when they transfer to law firm jobs after graduation.”

That experience of utilizing technology is vital in today’s rapidly evolving legal profession. As Dahl puts it, “The role of the lawyer is changing. The counsel we’re training our students to deliver is very different than that of ten years ago. They need to understand the fundamentals of the law, but in some cases, traditional output is increasingly being outsourced or automated. Lawyers need new skills, and we would be doing our students a disservice if we didn’t expose them to cutting-edge technologies that can make them more efficient and able to offer better analysis to their clients.”

Law students are equipped to use technology to become “smarter” in their work, using IP intelligence to increase their efficiency and effectiveness. For example, Dahl notes the intensifying focus on the power of data and makes the point that going through the USPTO website and doing a keyword search is frustrating and ineffective. Lawyers will increasingly rely on third-party tools to plug into and connect to the IP ecosystem, and those that learn how to use this technology early will do better work for their clients, as well as give themselves a competitive advantage in the employment market and their career progression.

The Law School recently launched the Future of the Profession Initiative (“FPI”), in recognition of rapid change in the legal profession. Projects like the DIPTC’s partnership with Innography embody FPI’s core mission of educating new lawyers for the future of law practice. FPI’s Executive Director Jennifer Leonard notes that “spending time in law school using advanced technology tools in practice settings teaches developing lawyers how to blend technology and legal training.” Learning to leverage technology to make legal counseling more efficient and accurate while freeing lawyer time to engage in complex legal problem-solving and client counseling is precisely the type of approach the Law School and Dean Ted Ruger envisioned when FPI launched.

Supporting a Time magazine innovation award winner

The DIPTC’s work is proving very powerful for law students and enterprises alike. As just one example, in 2018, a product developed by one of the DIPTC’s former clients was named one of Time magazine’s Best Inventions of the Year. The DIPTC students had worked with Lia Diagnostics to draft its first patent over its innovative flushable, compostable paper pregnancy test. Time was impressed by its biodegradability and the increased privacy the disposal process offered consumers.

Educating entrepreneurs

Most of the client work for the DIPTC focuses on creating and protecting, rather than asserting, IP rights. Given the semester-long timing and cost constraints, the DIPTC is mainly about “setting up protection and building IP value,” as Dahl puts it. She says, “Entrepreneurs come in all flavors, with different requirements, but what many of them need is more education on the importance of IP. They might be thinking only about branding and trademarks, and they may not be thinking more broadly about copyright and patents.” Her meaning is clear: they may not fully appreciate what is possible or necessary, nor how important IP is to business success.

The DIPTC accepts clients with ripe and compelling legal issues that offer students a challenge. For example, a client may need to narrow a broad portfolio of patents to focus on patents that will support an open market. Or their needs might be in an uncertain or emerging area of law, such as ownership of data and privacy issues, or the protection of virtual reality scenes or content created by artificial intelligence. Businesses and their lawyers will need to stay a step ahead.

The fact that work is carried out pro bono is an important aspect of the DIPTC. The students can help companies that would not otherwise be able to afford this kind of advice and practical input, especially at such an early stage, but whose ideas and products are compelling and have the potential to create value in the long term. “We have the luxury of being able to choose clients we believe in and that students really want to help,” says Dahl, adding: “Bringing cutting edge technology to help with the counsel is part of that.”

Deploying Innography solutions is a novel augmentation of the DIPTC’s hands-on, practical approach. Allowing the DIPTC students to gain real-world experience and sharpen their technical skills alongside their legal acumen, and at the same time giving idea-rich, cash-poor businesses the opportunity to maximize the potential of their innovations, Innography is helping to propel innovations as well as new IP professionals into the future.

Simon Webster concluded, “The work being undertaken at the DIPTC is a terrific example of the critical nature of IP to business ventures of any scale, and how to successfully prepare lawyers to operate in the new world of tech-enabled IP.”