The 12-month pilot program, launched through a partnership between the Ontario Centres of Excellence and Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive Program, will see six students assist OCE-supported companies with their IP issues. The OCE is a not-for-profit corporation for the commercialization of academic research in Ontario.
Giuseppina D’Agostino, a professor and director at IP Osgoode who will be running the clinic, proposed the idea two years ago. “I want to put Osgoode on the map in this country and around the world,” she says. “The vision was really to bring different partners together because that’s really where the world is going, it’s more and more collaborative, more interdisciplinary.”
Referencing the law school’s other clinics, she says Osgoode takes a very hands-on approach to learning, making its graduates more marketable. “In truth, the future of lawyering is really beyond the legalese and it’s going to be much more practical and multi-dimensional,” D’Agostino says.
OCE commercialization director Trish Barrow says students will help companies with their IP issues by researching trademarks, conducting prior art searches, helping them write IP strategies, determining whether they should consider patents or trademarks, and so on.
But, says D’Agostino, “it’s not just a student writing a memo or some discrete task that they’re often privy to, they’re going to have carriage of clients. . . . They’re going to be doing things that you even dream of during your articles, even as first-year associates, frankly.”
She says it’s a chance for students to gain a better understanding of the real world, making them better equipped to enter it once they graduate. And since IP is grounded in business law, she believes the clinical experience can help them with any area of law. “It’s about enhancing the learning opportunities for students,” she adds.
Barrow agrees: “What we’re hoping is that the students will find out if they’re interested in continuing in patent law. And we’re hoping that it provides an area for them to . . . get their hands dirty in the field and figure out if this is something that they have an affinity for.”
The students will also receive guidance from a major law firm, which Barrow hopes will be a valuable resource for the companies as well. She says the majority of the companies that will be using the clinic will be new startups that have limited budgets, especially for IP matters, so providing them with additional resources through the clinic should help facilitate their growth. The clinic will also be crucial for startups that have grown from publicly funded research in need of protection for their ideas and innovations.
In recognizing that these new companies need help with their legal fees, the students will be working pro bono, says D’Agostino. “A lot of these companies are choked before they could even get up and running because of the capital that they don’t have.” So the clinic will enable them to bypass legal fees they would normally have to pay for IP services.
The OCE’s Centre for Commercialization of Research is going to provide the clinic’s operating budget of $30,000 for its first year, and has also promised to fund the clinic’s second year.