There’s a course at the University of Iowa 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 and create a new medical product. IMIG is a multi-semester, hands-on interdisciplinary course in which the mission is to educate while addressing a real-world need in the provision of health care to remote locations in Iowa and beyond. As each semester has a different focus, students may enroll in one or more.
During the spring semester, teams of students consisting of members from multiple colleges work together to identify an existing need in providing health care services in remote locations. Students learn about the process of ideation, how to operate in an unfamiliar culture, inter-professional communication skills, project management, observation protocols, the process of medical device development, how health care is paid for, and legal issues in product development. They simultaneously research the provision of health care in remote locales and conduct interviews and observations at an identified site. The semester culminates in the drafting of a problem statement that articulates the unmet need, resource constraints, and other components that a solution will need to address.
During the following fall semester, IMIG teams will focus on the development of a product that meets the unmet need. Students must take multiple considerations into account in designing the product, including financial viability, expertise of the user, needs of the customer, and legal issues. The deliverable work product for the second semester is the creation of one or more prototypes of a product that addresses the unmet need along with an assessment of how the solution addresses the need. Students will also develop a plan for product development.
For law students, IMIG is a unique, practical course. IMIG students apply the knowledge they have learned in class to develop their skills. They help assess legal issues and provide background knowledge on core legal issues. For example, one of the main legal issues that often arise with product development is how to secure intellectual property protection for the new technology, whether it’s a patent for the device or a trademark for a new business logo. Other issues may include the regulatory path that the product will need to take, or concerns about liability.
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 involved 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.