At the College of Law, there’s a course where students from the law, medical, business, and engineering schools meet up and learn together. The Iowa Medical Innovation Group (IMIG) brings students from all four of these schools together to create, develop, and potentially patent a needed medical device.
IMIG is a two-semester, 6-credit experiential and interdisciplinary course. At the beginning of the school year, teams consisting of students from each college are assembled. The IMIG team’s basic task is to help develop a solution to a medical problem. After teams are formed, they are assigned to a faculty member who has an idea for a technological solution to a current medical problem. This list is compiled with the help of the UI medical community, the University of Iowa Research Foundation, and the IMIG students themselves. The teams then help the faculty member develop that technology, providing a multi-faceted support team that brings an array of skills to the project.
For law students, IMIG is a unique, practical course. IMIG students apply the knowledge they have learned in class to develop their practical legal skills. They help assess legal issues and provide background knowledge on core legal issues, such as whether a particular device has already been patented. One of the main legal goals for the project is to help develop some sort of intellectual property protection for the new technology, whether it’s a patent for the device or a trademark for a new business logo. As one of the law students on her team, Sarah Jack, a 2L, identities potential issues that could arise during the project and provides legal analysis of those issues. “When there’s something specific to search for, I do prior art searching,” Jack explained. Besides IP issues, law students may also have the opportunity to think about appropriate business entities should the technology be commercialized and assess the regulatory landscape—a particularly critical and complex task in the medical device world, where issues of safety, liability, and privacy abound.
While the law students are working on the legal issues and the business students are working on the business issues, the medical and engineering students are working together to develop a prototype. These prototypes, and the team’s business proposal for future development and production, are often pitched at venture competitions at which teams “pitch” the product to judges and potential investors. While it’s difficult to develop a product that can be patented in such a short amount of time, some teams have gone on to have their products developed and commercialized. For example, Voxello created a product that facilitates communications between patients and hospital staff.
Ms. Jack is a part of a team working to develop a glove for patients with degenerative neurological conditions, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease. “There are a lot of devices, like robotic solutions, which are very expensive and really only useful to people in advanced stages of disease,” Jack explained. “Hopefully this project will be more specifically targeted to all stages of the disease and more affordable.”
Jason Rantanen, the Law School faculty advisor for the IMIG program, encourages all students interested in healthcare, technology, product development, and business law to consider the course. “Some students focus on intellectual property issues, while others bring general business law knowledge to the table. Others have experience with the healthcare side,” he commented. While registration is limited, Professor Rantanen notes that the course is an opportunity for students to take legal knowledge and begin to deal with it in situation intended to simulate something more like real world. “This is one of those rare opportunities in school where law students get to learn what it’s like to work with team members with very different skills, motivators and perspectives.” Students can develop their legal skills in a learning environment, yet have the opportunity to work on a team that is developing something real. Jack echoed that sentiment, noting also that IMIG is an opportunity to see how other aspects of the world intersect with the law. “I’ve learned a lot about the business side of things.” Jack explained, “I have a science background, and as an undergrad I was very focused on lab research, but never focused on the business stuff. It’s given me a different perspective.”
Amanda Marincic, March 3, 2017