Law Students Gain Patent Experience, Foster Healthcare Innovation in Bench-to-Bedside Program

The Bench-to-Bedside program is a competition that matches College of Law students who are interested in protecting inventors’ intellectual property with University of Utah medical, business and engineering students who are working as teams to provide healthcare innovations. The program allows College of Law students to obtain extensive patent-related experience under the supervision of Professor Amelia Rinehart, and the competition teams to receive high quality patent work to bolster their competitiveness.

The U’s Center for Medical Innovation, which administers the competition and operates through U of U Health Sciences, provides funding for up to three law fellows a year. The law fellows work with competition teams to provide early-stage patent services at no cost. Each Bench-to-Bedside competition team identifies an unmet clinical need and creates a start-up company to market the product developed in response to that identified need. Last year’s competition included students from the College of Medicine, David Eccles School of Business, and College of Engineering, among others. Teams proposed a variety of medical devices, including a device for moving handicapped individuals from one seat to another; an exercise app that turns exercise into a game; a more convenient, comfortable and discreet breast pump; and a device for safely removing tissue from a human body.

Tenley Schofield, ’14, joined Bench-to-Bedside in 2013, and is still “peripherally involved” in the program today. In addition to gaining invaluable experience monitoring the invention and state of the prior art, and preparing patent applications under Professor Rinehart’s supervision, Schofield says the program also provided her with other benefits: “I still maintain contact with several of my inventor teams, as they finalize and market their inventions,” she recounts. “That allowed me to have a few clients of my own as a new patent attorney entering a large local law firm, and I feel that was a definite advantage.”

Austin Paulsen, a 3L, became involved in the Bench to Bedside program last year as part of his responsibilities as a BioLaw fellow. He describes his involvement as a “great experience.” “I gained a lot of insight about how to explain intellectual property law to non-lawyers,” he notes. “In order to best assist the student-competitors, I had to boil the legalese I learned in intellectual property law courses into easily understandable summaries. I also gained invaluable experience preparing provisional patent applications. [Under Professor Rinehart’s guidance] I was able to assist three groups in preparing complete provisional patent applications so that they would easily be able to file non-provisional patent applications if their ideas turned out to be valuable.”

Rinehart also praises Bench-to-Bedside. “It’s an exciting program for participants because it allows them entry into the world of innovation and entrepreneurship in a very cutting-edge field. It is also innovative for law students in that they get hands-on patent experience with live client inventors who are fellow members of the university community.”

For more on the Bench-to-Bedside program, click here.