Patent Procurement Clinic at Wayne Law benefits students, local businesses


 The Patent Procurement Law Clinic at Wayne State University Law School gives students interested in patent law a major advantage, according to local attorneys practicing in the intellectual property field.

“Wayne Law has the only patent procurement clinic in Michigan, so if you want to be a patent attorney, you have to look at Wayne Law first,” said patent attorney Christopher Darrow who earned his law degree at Wayne Law in 2000 and his master of laws in intellectual property law at George Washington University in 2004.
He’s a shareholder with Young, Basile, Hanlon, & MacFarlane PC, a firm that specializes in intellectual property law, and a special master and technical advisor to federal judges on patent cases. He also was instrumental in developing the patent clinic last year at Wayne Law, which is the only school in Michigan — and among only 25 law schools nationwide — chosen by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a participating patent clinic certified for the office’s pilot program. Selected schools were praised for their intellectual property curriculum, their outreach to the community and their comprehensive client services.
“The patent clinic is an exceptional opportunity for students to actually practice patent law before graduation,” said patent attorney Thomas Helmholdt who earned his law degree at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in 1986 and is the founding member of Helmholdt Law PLC, an intellectual property firm in Rochester Hills. “I would expect that Wayne State University Law School will be the premier destination for any law student in the Midwest region with an interest in intellectual property law.”
Helmholdt was so enthused about the idea of the patent clinic and its affiliation with the Patent and Trademark Office that he agreed to become a Wayne Law adjunct professor to teach the clinic, which recently completed its first year.
Patent attorney Jeffrey Doyle, a 2002 Wayne Law graduate, isn’t involved with the new patent clinic but is happy to see it at his alma mater. Doyle works at Reising Ethington PC which specializes solely in the practice of intellectual law.
“I think the clinic offers law students a chance to get exposure to patents and the patent system in general that is not typically available to law students,” Doyle said. “It affords students the opportunity to get real-world patent law experience … and provide students with experience that may make them more marketable to employers.”
The idea for the clinic was born when Helmholdt first heard last year that the Patent and Trademark Office was considering Detroit for a satellite office and learned about its pilot program for law school clinics.
“It seemed like a unique opportunity for a local university to create a synergistic relationship with the new Detroit satellite patent office,” he said. “However, there was a very short deadline for applying.”
He contacted Darrow, whom he knew was an active Wayne Law alumnus.
“I thought, ‘We have to get this at Wayne Law,’ ” Darrow said. “My thought was that Wayne Law could provide practical legal training to its law students while at the same time help local startup companies get patent protection for their ideas, which in the long run, could create jobs in the struggling Michigan economy.”
He offered to design the clinic and submit an application to the patent and trademark office. With less than a month to go before the deadline, Darrow, working with Wayne Law faculty, including Assistant Professor Eric Williams who directs the school’s Program for Entrepreneurial and Business Law, went to work.
“Eric Williams incorporated the Patent Procurement Law Clinic into his Business and Community Law Clinic,” Darrow said. “Given the strength of our faculty and the design of our proposed Patent Procurement Law Clinic, we put together a compelling application to get Wayne Law into the USPTO’s Law School Certification Pilot Program.”
Darrow pitched the merits of the application to Patent and Trademark Office Director David Kappos, who agreed that Wayne Law was the right place for a prestigious spot in the pilot program.
“At that moment, I felt that I had given something back to Wayne Law,” Darrow said. “It was a great feeling.”
He and Helmholdt went further to promote the plan and visited most of the business incubators in southeast Michigan to tell them firsthand about the new clinic and how it could help startup companies and inventors. Clients accepted by the clinic pay only for government filing fees.
“Not only is the clinic educating students, but it also is stimulating the local economy by providing free legal services to startup companies who otherwise would not be able to hire an attorney,” Darrow said.
Darrow earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, Helmholdt earned his in mechanical engineering and Doyle earned his in electrical engineering. All three men decided patent law was a natural choice for them, incorporating their interests in science, engineering, and law.
“Patent law is a great field for engineering students who have very good critical thinking and writing skills, who enjoy learning about new technology, who are quick studies and who have strong interpersonal skills,” Doyle said.
Darrow said he particularly loves working with inventors.
“There is always a sparkle in an inventor’s eye when he starts talking about his invention, similar to a parent talking about his or her child,” he said. “As a patent attorney, seeing that excitement from the inventor really gets me excited, also.”