April 23, 2018
FOCUS: Professional Services

Entrepreneurs, students find guidance at UConn's intellectual property law clinic

HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
Jon Norton cradles his invention, the Rope Protective Device, at the UConn School of Law, where he sought help to legally protect his product's intellectual property.
Photo | Contributed
Ryan and Li Papageorge began selling their invention, the Honey Bee Baby Bath, on Amazon in February after the UConn IP Law Clinic helped the couple file trademark and patent applications.

By the Numbers — UConn's IP law clinic

The number of UConn law students who have participated in the school's Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Law Clinic since it was founded in 2007.

The number of clients who have been served by the law clinic.

The number of patent applications filed by the law clinic.

The number of patents filed by the law clinic and issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The number of trademark applications filed by the law clinic, nearly 200 of which have been registered.

After gaining significant experience mountaineering during his two tours in Iraq, U.S. Army infantry officer Jon Norton discovered a need and possible business opportunity.

Norton discovered that mountain-climbing ropes can tear on sharp rocks during a climber's sojourn, so he created a protective device made of Cordura ballistic fabric and nylon webbing that covers part of the rope.

He thinks his product, known as the Rope Protective Device, will be popular with civilian and military climbers and he plans to eventually sell it online.

But before he can do that, Norton knows he has to legally protect his invention, so he sought out assistance from the Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Law Clinic at the UConn School of Law, which allows students, working under supervising attorneys, to counsel entrepreneurs across the state in a variety of intellectual property law issues.

Norton, 39, said the clinic's legal team contributed countless hours to his product, conducting patentability searches and writing patent applications. The group assisted Norton in filing provisional and non-provisional patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which recently published the rope protector's patent and will review the device over the next six to eight months, he said.

Norton, a graduate of the UConn ROTC program, is confident his product will receive a patent and be sold by September.

The clinic also helped Norton trademark the business logo for his current business venture, Peak Leadership Training, which specializes in corporate leadership development and team-building.

He said the clinic helped him save thousands of dollars in legal fees.

"The clinic has really simplified a complex process," Norton said. "All of the students were of the utmost professionalism and took a simple idea and refined it into a full patent application."

Diverse client applications

Founded in 2007, more than 200 law students have served 430 clients at the clinic, filing 131 patent applications, with 27 patents issued and another 21 non-provisional patent applications pending. Almost 200 of 258 trademark applications filed have been registered, the clinic reported.

Co-directors Diane Covello and Kathleen Lombardi oversee the clinic, supervising students and clients in patent and trademark matters. They select client applications based on financial need and if they can provide necessary resources.

Acceptance into the clinic ensures free counseling; entrepreneurs are only required to pay for government filing fees.

Lombardi said the clinic serves a large demographic of clients, with participants coming from each of Connecticut's eight counties, ranging from an 11-year-old boy to a retired 90-year-old UConn professor.

The staff's case workload varies depending on a client's contributions during the patent application process, which often takes two to three years before the USPTO officially decides, the co-directors said.

Recently, clients were issued patents for a firearms attachment, a vehicle providing transport across frozen water and an external stimulator with patch electrodes that treats foot pain.

Ryan Papageorge and his wife, Li, also represent the clinic's large scope of clients.

The Shelton couple had struggled to wash their baby son James, so they designed a bathtub- and sink-friendly insert for infants. The product features a soft-cushioned seat belt that prevents babies from sliding during bathes.

Papageorge, a full-time mechanical engineer, said the clinic provided patentability searches and filed their applications for a trademark and patent.

Awaiting approval, the couple began selling their invention — the Honey Bee Baby Bath — on Amazon in February.

"It has been such a pleasure working with each and every student that's been assigned to our cases," Papageorge said. "The patents covered all the key features of our product and they were very careful in how they wrote the patent."

Student's perspective

The couple was assisted by Chris Holshouser, who is one of 11 UConn Law students currently working at the clinic.

Holshouser, 33, enrolled at UConn Law in 2014 during his active duty in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a nuclear reactor operations instructor at the Naval Submarine School in Groton.

Holshouser, who will graduate in May, said he worked with about a dozen clients seeking patents and spent a "considerable" amount of time learning from supervising attorneys. The individual mentorship, he says, is rarely provided at law firms.

"As I've spoken with prospective employers over the last several months, they have frequently been impressed at the amount of patent work I have already performed," Holshouser said.

In 2008, Uconn's IP law clinic was one of the first to enroll in a national certification program provided by the USPTO. The national program currently enrolls 58 law school clinics and allows students to practice law, under supervising faculty, before the federal patent and trademark agency.

The program allows law students to communicate with the agency's patent examiners as they are also expected to draft and file applications and respond to office actions, according to the agency's website.

Covello and Lombardi said these opportunities provide unique experiences for law students who become well-versed in meeting the daily challenges of an intellectual property attorney.

"From our perspective the students who come out of the program have a lot of client contact," Lombardi said. "This is not just a Hartford operation, it's statewide."

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