The organization responsible for commercializing the technologies and inventions that University of Iowa faculty, staff, and students develop is seeking up to four JD or MBA students for its Technology Evaluation Internship Program.
The University of Iowa Research Foundation (UIRF) is a non-profit entity that handles the university’s technology transfer. Among other responsibilities, when university personnel create new inventions the UIRF evaluates the technology and determines whether to seek intellectual property (patent or copyright) protection.
The UIRF reviewed 139 technologies in 2014 and expects to review about 200 this year, said Mihaela Bojin, one of program coordinators. Interns will evaluate each individual technology’s potential patentability and commercial prospects. The UIRF’s patentability assessment involves reviewing technical literature and meeting with inventors to understand how new the technology is. Interns also evaluate the technology’s commercial prospects by identifying market(s) for the invention, the size of those markets, and the key market participants.
Since 2013, patent laws have changed to a first-to-file system that allows patents to be awarded to those inventors who file first a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The UIRF works quickly to determine whether to seek a patent. “The goal is for a patentability search and market analysis to take 10 – 20 hours,” explained Bojin, who has a PhD in chemistry and is a registered patent agent. The time required could vary by the complexity of the technology and the reviewer’s background, she observed.
For past intern Matt Coryell, JD ‘11 now an associate with Davis Brown in Des Moines, the internship helped him understand the broader context of the legal question that he now handles every day: “Is this technology patentable?”
“Learning to see the interaction between the potential scope of IP protection and impact on potential market share has informed everything from the way I walk a client through the decision about whether to file a patent application on a new invention to the way I draft claims should they decide to do so,” said Coryell, who also worked for UIRF for a year after graduating. “And I have found that clients really appreciate the perspective,” he added.
Although diagnostic, therapeutic, and medical devices make up the majority of technologies the UIRF reviews, interns can expect a variety of work. For Matt Warner-Blankenship, JD ‘11, one of most memorable projects was the “Avoid the Stork” campaign, which the Iowa Department of Health developed at the university to address unexpected pregnancies. “The program got a lot of positive feedback, so we investigated the options for licensing it to other states,” he said.
Warner-Blankenship, also now an associate in the Des Moines office of Davis Brown, was surprised at how involved interns were in the UIRF’s work. “Of course, not being lawyers, we weren’t able to practice law, but we were able to use some of what we’d learned in law school on the job, in dealing with outside counsel and asking the questions that needed to be asked,” he explained.
Student interns will receive two weeks of intensive training to orient and familiarize students with the review process. The training also allows the interns and UIRF staff to get to know one another. “It’s a small office and we want to understand the background of the interns so that they feel comfortable popping into our offices with questions, and so that we, as much as possible, can give them work in their areas of expertise or interests,” said Bojin.
--Jay Stirling | January 30, 2015