Once a classic manufacturing system — steel, rubber and cars — the United States economy has undergone a sea change over the last half-century, morphing into an ever-evolving, enterprising marketplace of ideas. Need examples? That prescription in your medicine cabinet is thanks to a new compound developed by a team of scientists. The new song on your iPod offers up an artist’s unique take on heartbreak. Your smart phone embodies a multitude of patented ideas, expertly packaged into one cool device.
In this knowledge-based economy, ideas are bankable and innovation is to be protected. That’s good for the bottom line, so it’s no wonder that intellectual property law — which protects patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets — is a rapidly growing field.
The School of Law’s new Center for Intellectual Property Law & Markets trains law students to help their clients use intellectual property rights to compete economically in today’s markets.
“The point of the center is to focus on how people turn ideas into money,” says David McGowan, the center’s director and Lyle L. Jones Professor of Competition and Innovation Law. “There are a lot of centers around the country that are focused on the policy-oriented approach to intellectual property law. We’re trying to create a niche in which we focus on how people actually take concepts and use different legal regimes to turn them into businesses.”
Launched in 2009, the new center is taking a three-pronged approach to intellectual law education and outreach. The first is an expanded curriculum that includes bringing practitioners from businesses such as Qualcomm and Warner Home Video directly to the students to talk about how IP law and economics interact in business and industry.
“Most students don’t realize that money in businesses doesn’t come from exercising rights in the usual way of filing a lawsuit,” McGowan says. “That’s the last stand. Most revenue streams triangulate off the threat of litigation … that’s 90 percent of it. You have these rights, but what are your clients doing with them? It’s almost a hybrid business school/law school model.”
Students, especially those who can apply what they’ve learned the next day on the job, appreciate that real-world approach.
“I’m very fortunate to have gotten the IP education I have at USD,” says Espartaco Diaz Hidalgo, a patent agent at Qualcomm who’s in his last semester at the law school. “I feel like my rate of development is accelerated compared to someone who doesn’t have the combination of both school and work experience.”
The second element of the Intellectual Property Law Center — the conference component — brings businesspeople, lawyers and academicians together for roundtable discussions and public lectures. A recent conference drew professionals from Harvard, the University of Chicago, Stanford, Hewlett Packard, Qualcomm and Yahoo! to debate a patent law issue.
“We want people to think of us as a hub where they can learn things that are useful and also to be aware of the fact that we are producing people they might want to hire,” McGowan says.
The final component of the center is a planned website that will feature streaming videos of the public lectures, information for prospective IP law students, and a student-produced blog to showcase their research and analysis on relevant topics. Replacing a traditional law review, the blog will make student analyses timely, easy to digest and easier to find, says McGowan.
The Center for Intellectual Property Law & Markets creates momentum on several levels, says Ted Sichelman, USD assistant professor of law and one of the center’s organizers.
“It provides a lot more visibility for the IP program at the school,” Sichelman says of the center, which will attract the involvement of more IP attorneys, and, in turn, more students and courses. “You get more intensity in terms of the IP curriculum and extracurricular activities. By having the center, we are able to bring in more funding, have more programs, etc. It plays an important coordinating function.”
“We’re trying to do something a little different because we are trying to be a bridge between industry and law firms and academe,” adds McGowan. “I couldn’t be happier with the reception we’ve had from our alumni and from the community.”
FEATURE PHOTO BY Fred Greaves