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Akron Law gets an ‘A’ in IP

The University of Akron School of Law’s IP program received an “A” from The National Jurist’s preLaw Magazine. The school was one of 29 institutions to get an “A.” The 2016 winter edition of the magazine lists their names as well as those that received an “A minus.” Grades were based on the breadth of curricular offerings. Schools that got an “A” feature a concentration, clinic, externship, center, and in some cases, a certificate program. Pictured here associate professor of law Ryan Vacca teaches "Fundamentals of Intellectual Property Law." (Photo courtesy of The University of Akron School of Law).  

Special to the Legal News

Published: March 2, 2016

It’s one of a handful of institutions to offer an LL.M. (Master of Laws) in intellectual property and recently The University of Akron School of Law’s IP program earned an “A” from The National Jurist’s preLaw Magazine.

The school was one of 29 institutions to get an “A.” The 2016 winter edition of the magazine lists their names as well as those that received an “A minus.” Grades were based on the breadth of curricular offerings. Schools that got an “A” feature a concentration, clinic, externship, center, and in some cases, a certificate program.

The magazine has also ranked The University of Akron School of Law as the seventh best in the country for students who want to pursue a career as a public defender or prosecutor.

“Intellectual property is an area where we have invested significantly,” said Matthew J. Wilson, dean of the law school. “Not only do we offer more than 20 courses, we also have a very popular LL.M. program and a strong alumni base that includes top lawyers and judges as well as an IP advisory council made up of experts from around the world who provide guidance and advice to students and the law school.

“We recently hired two more professors who are experts in IP.  They will start in August,” said Wilson. “We also have an expansive reach in terms of our symposiums. We hosted the 4th annual Patent Law Experts Conference in early February and we will host the 18th annual Symposium on IP Law & Policy on March 14.”

Alisa Benedict O’Brien, director of career planning at the law school, said the institution gives IP students a number of opportunities to gain experience in the field.

“We offer internships and externships with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Summa hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic, NEOMED (Northeast Ohio Medical University) and The University of Akron Research Foundation to name a few,” said O’Brien.

“We also work with and regularly place our students with private law firms and businesses as law clerks where they are able to begin working after their first year of law school.”

Students interested in IP can choose to get joint J.D./LL.M. degrees (100 credits), an LL.M. (24 credits) or a certificate in intellectual property (15 credits).

Ryan Vacca, associate professor of law and director of the Center for Intellectual Property Law and Technology, said the program allows students to choose courses that fit their individual career goals and features a trademark clinic that gives them the chance to work with real clients, conducting trademark searches and preparing and filing applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Longtime trademark attorney Dan Thomson runs the clinic and supervises the students.

“Having experience in trademark prosecution is invaluable since it is the bread and butter of what many IP attorneys do,” said Vacca.

He said the school is creating a new course on inter partes review to address the USPTO’s new procedures allowing patents to be challenged after they are issued. The course is expected to be available during the 2016-2017 academic year.

“With the passage of the America Invents Act in 2011, these new procedures were created to make it easier for parties to challenge the validity of patents,” said Vacca. “They have been very popular over the last couple of years and the patent bar is still adapting to these changes and figuring out the system. Akron Law’s course will familiarize students with these procedures and help them understand the challenges they and their clients will face in practice.”

Each year a number of law students that have scientific and engineering backgrounds take the patent bar exam in addition to the regular bar exam.

“Passing the patent bar exam permits students to serve as patent agents even before they’ve graduated law school,” said Vacca. “Once they pass the regular bar exam, they become patent attorneys. Patent agents and patent attorneys are permitted to practice before the USPTO by filing patent applications and trying to persuade the USPTO to grant a patent to their client.”

Maggie Petrush, a 3L and production editor for the Akron Law Review, said the IP program has given her new skills to use in her job at the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

“We honor and recognize inventors who have changed the world,” said Petrush, who works out of the North Canton headquarters. “Our museums are located on the United States Patent and Trademark Office campus in Alexandria, Virginia and in Akron at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School.

“We have a partnership with the USPTO, which provides funding to promote protection of intellectual property through our children’s and collegiate programs. The law school’s IP program has given me an in-depth understanding of how to help protect inventors’ and artists’ works.”

In Petrush’s case, she was already working full time for the National Inventors Hall of Fame when she started law school in August 2013. She said she became interested in studying IP law after attending a symposium on the topic during her first year.  

“I wanted to go to law school since high school,” she said. “My mom is a paralegal so I grew up around the legal profession. Working in the National Inventors Hall of Fame and hearing so many stories of perseverance did inspire me to learn how to protect intellectual property.”

A night student, Petrush plans to get an IP certificate.

She works in the school’s trademark clinic and said she enjoys helping small businesses that can’t yet afford to hire a lawyer to protect their intellectual property while acquiring practical skills.

“It’s a great program,” said Petrush. “We have very knowledgeable professors with experience in the field.”

Once she graduates in December, the Medina resident said she would like to land a job as an in-house attorney.

“I believe Akron Law’s IP certificate and the skills I’ve gained through our trademark clinic will provide me an advantage in obtaining a position in a corporate legal department,” she said.

Akron Law night school student Doug Moseley also works in the trademark clinic and assisted in the SEED (Small Entrepreneur and Economic Development) legal clinic last semester.

“Both clinics provide experience working with actual clients,” said Moseley. “I have gotten the chance to draft some IP and copyright agreements along with drawing up some non-disclosure contracts for small businesses and startups.”

He said the trademark clinic is unique because students get the opportunity to file and prosecute applications under the guidance of a licensed attorney.

“The school has an agreement with the USPTO that expedites the applications we file. Normally it might be months until the office takes action,” said Moseley. “However, in this case we expect to receive a response to the application within the same semester so the students can respond and continue to advance the application. It’s a great head-to-tail experience.”

Moseley’s said his decision to go to law school was directly related to his job as vice president of research and technology at Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems in Akron.

“I have been managing the company’s IP for about five or six years now, which sparked my interest in the area,” he said. “A legal degree was a logical next step for me.”

A native of Seattle, Washington, he already holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from The University of Akron.

Moseley graduates in December and hopes to use his degree to work in “some legal capacity within the company.

“Law school is probably one of the most demanding things I’ve ever taken on. It’s also one of the most fulfilling. I’m really looking forward to practicing,” he said.