Intel­lec­tual prop­erty is extremely valu­able and impor­tant to pro­tect, and nav­i­gating this process can be a daunting, com­pli­cated, and expen­sive undertaking—particularly for stu­dent entre­pre­neurs and innovators.

Enter Northeastern’s Intel­lec­tual Prop­erty Law Clinic.

Led by law stu­dents, under guid­ance of fac­ulty and staff, the clinic pro­vides a range of IP-​​related legal infor­ma­tion and ser­vices to stu­dents and ven­tures in the university’s entre­pre­neurial ecosystem. Its goal is to enhance the campus inno­va­tion envi­ron­ment and pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for law stu­dents to gain prac­tical expe­ri­ence. Working col­lab­o­ra­tively with stu­dents and fac­ulty across dis­ci­plines, the lawyers-​​in-​​training develop and deliver intel­lec­tual prop­erty knowl­edge while sup­porting stu­dent entrepreneurship.

Shane Riehl, L’15, served as one of the clinic’s teaching assis­tants in fall 2014, and then grad­u­ated from Northeastern’s JD/​MBA dual-​​degree pro­gram in the School of Law and the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness in May. “Legal ser­vices are one of the more expen­sive things going into a startup,” he said, adding that new ven­tures must under­stand the legal land­scape of the industry they’re entering.

The clinic launched two years ago as a pilot project, and since last fall has been oper­ating  each fall and winter law school quarter with plans to expand to all four quar­ters. Law stu­dents enroll just as they would in any other course and must devote at least 20 hours a week to the clinic. The stu­dents work both col­lab­o­ra­tively and indi­vid­u­ally on projects for clients, which have ranged from star­tups to cap­stones to student-​​run campus orga­ni­za­tions. The law stu­dents meet for weekly “rounds”to dis­cuss their client projects.

Because the clinic’s law stu­dents aren’t yet licensed lawyers, there are some limits on the legal ser­vices they can  pro­vide. How­ever, the stu­dents pro­duce memos and con­duct research on a range of topics, from trade­mark and patent law to employ­ment and con­trac­tual agree­ments. In cer­tain cases, they also refer some clients to  the Center for Research Inno­va­tion and legal prac­ti­tioners in the Boston community.

From left, School of Law students Justin Pounds, L'16, Zak Kosan, L'15, and Nick Eliades, L'15. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

From left, School of Law stu­dents Justin Pounds, L’16, Zak Kosan, L’15, and Nick Eli­ades, L’15. Photo by Matthew Modoono/​Northeastern University

Northeastern’s Intel­lec­tual Prop­erty Law Clinic is believed to be the only such law school clinic in the U.S. in which stu­dents are in charge of selecting their clients and projects and nego­ti­ating the terms of engage­ment. The clinic works closely with IDEA, Northeastern’s student-​​run ven­ture accel­er­ator, to help iden­tify poten­tial clients in need of intel­lec­tual prop­erty guid­ance. The clinic also col­lab­o­rates with other stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions and uni­ver­sity groups as well as the Center for Research Inno­va­tion.

It’s a won­derful oppor­tu­nity for law stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate and con­tribute to the inno­va­tion ecosystem on campus,” said fac­ulty adviser Susan Mont­gomery, who holds joint appoint­ments in the law school and D’Amore-McKim. She added that the clinic also pro­vides oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to col­lab­o­rate with fac­ulty on IP learning mod­ules, poli­cies, and work­shops while they hone skills they will apply to their legal careers.

One of the clinic’s recent clients was Scout, the student-​​run design studio. Laura Marelic, AMD’15, Scout’s former CEO , said the clinic deliv­ered a pre­sen­ta­tion to the group’s man­age­ment team and pro­vided the orga­ni­za­tion with an overview of intel­lec­tual prop­erty law as it relates to designers. She said the clinic proved to be a crit­ical resource in terms of helping Scout develop the con­tracts it uses between clients and its stu­dent designers, noting that “They were a huge resource for us.”

Nana Liu, L’15, par­tic­i­pated in the clinic both as a stu­dent and as a teaching assis­tant, allowing her to immerse her­self in Northeastern’s flour­ishing entre­pre­neur­ship network.

This clinic afforded me the chance to get out on campus and par­tic­i­pate more in the North­eastern com­mu­nity at large,” said Lui, noting times when the clinic held office hours at the Husky Startup Chal­lenge and pre­sented at an  Entre­pre­neurs Club meeting. These expe­ri­ences, she added, helped her learn more about the inter­sec­tion of law and business.