UA Law Students Help Protect Startups' Innovations

A new intellectual property clinic has been founded at the UA James E. Rogers College of Law to help entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.
March 20, 2014

Before starting a business, it's important to consider some key things, such as whether to form a corporation or an LLC, how your new company will be structured and how you will protect your intellectual property. 

When entrepreneurs embark on a new business venture, they're often faced with many difficult questions. A new intellectual property clinic, founded at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, is aiming to make the process a bit easier.

The clinic pairs law students in their third year with newly established entrepreneurs, helping them get their businesses off the ground while protecting their innovative ideas. The college formed the clinic through a partnership with law firm Quarles & Brady LLP.

"Businesses typically understand how they're going to make money and what their customers need, but they don't always understand the legal technicalities," said Derek Bambauer, associate professor of law at the UA and faculty supervisor for the clinic. "That's really our goal – to help them not have to worry as much about those kind of things."

According to Bambauer, Arizona has become a "hotbed" of startup companies that may have lots of innovative ideas, but not enough money to protect them. The clinic, launched at the beginning of the semester, has five students and one client, a startup software company. Bambauer said he expects more students and clients to get involved as the clinic develops. The partnership with Quarles & Brady will last for two years.

Students who participate in the clinic are treated as junior attorneys, performing tasks such as conducting research, drafting documents and presenting information to business owners. They'll also help counsel business owners on obtaining venture funding, protecting their innovations and commercializing their ideas.

"If you're a startup, lawyers are expensive at several hundred dollars an hour," Bambauer said. "Doing even basic tasks can run up the bills quickly. The ability to have really motivated lawyers who are being overseen by seasoned attorneys at Quarles & Brady is a real advantage. They're going to get a really high-quality product."

While the clients and law firm reap the benefit of free legal help, students are benefiting from experiential learning and gaining real-world experience, Bambauer said.

"It's a tough job market these days for lawyers," he said. "If you can say 'I have real-world experience that I can immediately bring to an organization,' that just makes you make it so much more competitive."

Bambauer said he predicts that similar partnerships will be formed at the college in the future.

"It helps embed us deeper in both the legal and business community here, it helps us offer value to Arizona startups," he said. "This is kind of a pilot, but I think it's absolutely intended to be a model of what future collaborations might look like."