Sarah Schmid|Xconomy

On the heels of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office opening up its first-ever satellite location in Detroit, Wayne State’s law school has announced it will offer a free patent procurement clinic to qualifying local entrepreneurs. It’s the only pro bono patent law procurement clinic in Michigan.

The clinic, located in Midtown at 471 Palmer, is staffed by law students and faculty and will be open for business shortly after the semester starts on August 27. “It gives students the opportunity to work as an attorney for inventors and entrepreneurs under close supervision,” says director Eric Williams. The clinic is designed for those who can’t afford legal representation but have technology with the potential to build a viable business and create jobs.

Williams says that the students staffing the patent clinic are a “pretty advanced group,” with undergraduate and master’s degrees in science and engineering. They will help with a client’s business formation, employment agreements, real estate, trademark and copyright issues, drafting and reviewing contracts, patentability searches, patent applications, and responses to patent office rejections. Applications that come from the clinic will also be fast-tracked through the patent office’s approval process.

The new satellite patent office is housed in a historic structure on the banks of the Detroit River that was once home to Parke-Davis Laboratories and the Stroh’s Brewerty headquarters. As for why the first satellite patent office is in Detroit instead of, say, Palo Alto, it’s because the city fit the need for access to research universities, a high number of scientists and engineers, and a high volume of patent activity already being carried out. According to patent office data, Michigan was ranked 7th in the nation in 2009 for total number of patents, with 3,516, and that was arguably the worst economic year in Detroit’s modern history.

Williams says that he imagines his students will work closely with accelerator and incubator clients, as well as with the university’s tech transfer office. “Myself and other adjunct professors are going out to incubators and universities trying to figure out which clients have the best chance for patentability,” he adds. “We want to reach out beyond Wayne State as much as possible. The ideal situation is that the inventor wants to patent something but the patent is part of a larger business model.”

Williams has already gotten interest from student entrepreneurs, who are “thrilled” at the prospect of free legal services that Williams estimates have a market value of around $5,000. He says he also has four emails sitting in his inbox from people all over the country who are requesting the clinic’s services. “People understand the importance of protecting their IP, and want insight if what they have is worth protecting, but we’ll prioritize matters in Southeast Michigan,” Williams says. (Those interested in the clinic should email, and Williams will respond with an application and follow-up phone call if he thinks it’s a potential match.)

Williams, a Detroit native who graduated from Cass Tech, comes to his position at Wayne State after spending the past 15 years practicing law in New York. He calls the Wayne State gig his “dream job” and is clearly happy to be involved in Detroit’s revitalization—of which the satellite patent office could play a significant part. “From an economic development point of view, it’s wonderful to have something to draw innovators to the area and encourage those that are here to stay,” he adds. “All around, it’s a really big deal.”

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