The Intellectual Property Clinic: A Powerful Tool Supporting Illinois Startups

3/22/2019 Urvashi Jha, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Written by Urvashi Jha, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Intellectual Property (IP), is often a crucial but daunting subject for startup companies. Startups recognize that protecting their IP (patents, copyrights, and trademark) is important, but the lack of a clear understanding of how IP rights are obtained and enforced, the complexity of IP rules, and the substantial costs involved in protecting IP rights, are often confusing and demotivating to startups, which can leave their IP vulnerable.  Fortunately, a powerful resource is available to startup companies at the University of Illinois - the Intellectual Property Clinic (IP Clinic)!

Launched in 2008, the IP Clinic is a joint effort at the University of Illinois between the Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) at the College of Engineering and the College of Law (COL). The IP Clinic takes place each spring semester. Patent and trademark applications are prepared free of charge for startup companies selected from the TEC’s Cozad New Venture Challenge, the Illinois Innovation Prize competition, and the iVenture Accelerator.  Each patent application typically costs around $10,000-$12,000 and trademark registrations and strategy costs around $2,000-$2,500.

The patent and trademark applications are prepared by law students under the supervision of Adjunct Professor Joe Barich, a practicing IP attorney who has taught at the COL since 2005. “It has been my pleasure to partner with TEC to found the IP Clinic and to lead its efforts for the last 12 years. We continue to accomplish its mission of integrating the intellectual property services provided by the College of Law students with the powerful, global-class entrepreneurship ecosystem provided by the College of Engineering,” Professor Barich says. 

Joseph Barich
Joe Barich

“Unlike IP Clinics that might be offered at other law schools that may focus on more abstract aspects of IP policy, like the Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic at Stanford and the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard, the University of Illinois IP Clinic works directly and exclusively to support individual startup companies developed at our world-renowned College of Engineering. The law students work directly with startup companies in the IP Clinic. They gain valuable insights and experience while providing legal services that positively impact the growth of individual startup companies, and support entrepreneurship programs of TEC,” he adds.

The law students participating in the IP Clinic get the opportunity to leverage experiential learning.  “One of the best aspects of the IP Clinic is working with the remarkable energy, creativity, and dynamism of student entrepreneurs,” says third-year law student Candice Kwark.  “We have the privilege of working together to solve real problems and serve individuals by providing tools to protect their IP. In the process, we – as law students – acquire experience in practice and procedure, the art of counseling, and a deep understanding of professionalism. Working alongside one of the most dedicated and creative clinical professors, I feel lucky to have the invaluable opportunity to put intellectual property law into practice.”

DeepWalk, a startup focusing on developing computer vision solutions for the assessment of construction for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is one of the current participants in the patent and trademark track of the IP Clinic. “The money saved through the IP Clinic has allowed us at DeepWalk to focus more of our limited funding towards technical and business development. The IP Clinic has turned the expensive and time-consuming patent process into a simple learning experience that has moved our team several months forward,” says Brandon Yates, Founder of DeepWalk. 

The number of companies for which a patent application may be prepared is constrained by the number of available, technically-trained law students. However, several law students are available to assist startup companies with their trademark registrations. “I believe that the IP Clinic experience will leave a long-lasting impact on both my company and likely my future. Not only does it create credibility for my company, but I am saving thousands of dollars that I might not have had otherwise,” says Nick Bahr, Founder of Verge Exotic Pet Products, current participant of the IP Clinic. The startup is developing an automatic cricket dispenser to allow reptile owners peace of mind while away from their pets.

While the benefit provided by the IP Clinic to an individual company is significant for that company, the aggregate financial impact of the IP Clinic on the entrepreneurship ecosystem as a whole is substantial.  Over the course of its operation, the IP Clinic will have prepared over 50 patent applications and assisted almost 200 companies with trademark applications and strategy this year.  “Over our 12 years of operation, we are proud to have provided about $1 million worth of legal services to startup companies,” said Professor Barich. “In many cases, our services have helped the startups advance to the next stage in their growth, including admission into startup accelerators and incubator programs, successive funding rounds, and winning numerous awards.” 

“The IP Clinic is an important agent for the success of the thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem at Illinois. The services provided by the IP Clinic are invaluable for our entrepreneurs who gain a much better understanding of the nuances of the IP world. We appreciate the partnership with the College Of Law, and the benefit provided to our student innovators,” says Jed Taylor, Executive Director of TEC.

TEC holds the IP Clinic Orientation Workshop during the spring semester. Learn more about the IP Clinic.

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This story was published March 22, 2019.