As part of a continuing series on Fall 2018 semester courses that relate to innovation and business law, this post spotlights the Iowa Medical Innovation Group.
At the University of Iowa, 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 envision, create, and potentially implement a solution to a healthcare need.
IMIG is a 3-credit hands-on multi-disciplinary course. The course is offered in both the spring and the fall. In the spring semester, students work together to identify a healthcare need in rural and remote areas in Iowa and beyond. Students must identify the characteristics that surround that need and consider how they can develop a sustainable product. That work culminates in a verified “need statement,” a formalized articulation of the need, that is supported by analysis. In the fall semester, students work on developing a solution to the need, taking into account the abilities of their team members. At the end of the second semester, depending on the team’s progress, students may continue on to work on implementing their solution. While students cannot receive credit for the third semester, faculty members will remain available to advise the students. Students can participate in both spring and fall semesters, or just participate in one—although students coming into the fall from the spring semester receive priority in choosing their projects and teams.
For law students, IMIG is a unique, practical course. IMIG students apply the knowledge they have learned in class to develop their practice skills and legal judgment. 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. Besides IP issues, law students 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.
Jason Rantanen, the Law School faculty member who teaches in 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 a 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.
By taking IMIG, Andrea Rastelli (2L), has solidified her desire to work with start-ups. Rastelli explained that IMIG has given her a chance to see how product development truly works in the start-up environment. Rastelli also noted that chance to explore one’s skills as an attorney in a real-world setting. “You go to law school and you’re taught to think a certain way. Lawyers are needed for a lot more than just that type of thinking. Our knowledge is really valuable, and this environment really demonstrates that.” Rastelli also emphasized that one does not need to have a technical background in order to benefit from the course.
Clay Soelberg, a JD/MBA student, appreciates the interdisciplinary aspect of the course. “I like coming together in a cross-functional team. That’s something we don’t really get to do in law school,” Soelberg observed. “The team aspect gives a flavor of what the real world would be like if you were in a business, more so than a law firm,” Soelberg noted. “I have to take ownership for the legal aspects of the project, even if it’s beyond my comfort level.”
Amanda Marincic -- updated April 3, 2018
The Iowa Medical Innovation Group is an interdisciplinary seminar taught by faculty members from the Colleges of Law, Medicine, Engineering, and Business. Over the course of the academic year, a team of students from these four colleges, with at least one law student on each team, will assist a faculty member at the University with the development of an invention. The team will design it and produce figures or, if possible, a prototype; conduct patentability analyses and, if appropriate, draft a patent application; assess the regulatory landscape and requirements; assess possible business structures; assess market demand; and design a business model for marketing it. Students will be expected to participate to some degree in all aspects of project development, although the principal obligation of law students will be focused on legal issues. Enrollment is strictly limited each year and will be determined by the number of teams that the four Colleges are able to field.
This course will meet as a full group approximately every other Wednesday from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Law students will meet on off weeks from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.