Innovation Law Center: Where Law, Technology and Business Intersect
By Rob Enslin
When Jake Goldsmith ’15 was a biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, he had no idea that he would parlay his education into the courtroom—and the boardroom. “There’s not much difference between science and law,” says the second-year law student at Syracuse University. “In both cases, I’m organizing data to be understood by others.”
Today, Goldsmith is a member of the University’s Innovation Law Center (ILC), where he is an aspiring intellectual property attorney. ILC not only gives Goldsmith hands-on legal training, but also enables him to help innovators, entrepreneurs and companies bring their ideas to life.
For more than 30 years, ILC has been a pioneer in technology commercialization law, which encompasses the legal, business and technical aspects of product development. In addition to offering a graduate-level practicum, ILC is the state’s only official science and technology law center and is a sought-after legal incubator.
Students like Goldsmith work with faculty experts at ILC, which advises more than 60 clients a year, ranging from startups and established companies to federal laboratories and other research institutions. Most clients, he says, seek out ILC for actionable research analysis about early-stage technologies. The center responds with a detailed landscape report covering the technology’s intellectual property rights, competition, marketplace and regularly environment.
Recent projects include an amphibious, all-terrain vehicle; a wind tunnel simulation-testing tool; a gas turbine for an unmanned aerial system; and an at-home catheterization and sterilization system.
“We help clients figure out what to do next,” says ILC director Jack Rudnick L’73. “If the technology is sound, we recommend they contact a patent attorney. If it isn’t, we encourage them to go back to the drawing board. Either way, ILC provides something of value at little or no cost.”
Adds Goldsmith: “We help clients understand what they don’t know.”
Success Breeds Success
Based in the College of Law, ILC is open to students of all majors. Most are second- or third-year law students, but Rudnick has noticed a surge in MBA candidates from the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and graduate students from the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
One such participant is Patrick Riolo, who is pursuing both an MBA and a B.S. in bioengineering. He recently proved his interdisciplinary mettle by conducting marketing research for several ILC clients, including a major cybersecurity firm.
“ILC has changed how I view my audiences,” says Riolo, who appreciates the reciprocity between technology and the marketplace. “Here, I’m not writing for a professor or an imaginary judge—I’m writing for a real-world client who is emotionally invested in their product and understands the technology behind it. I like to put myself in their shoes and wonder how their invention might look to an angel investor or a venture capitalist.”
The first in the nation to apply scholarly legal analysis and experiential education to product commercialization, ILC has enjoyed a strong upward trajectory. Its designation as the New York State Science and Technology Law Center in 2004, followed by Rudnick’s arrival in 2013, has enhanced the state’s role as a global leader in drone, medical and infrastructure technologies.
“Success breeds success. We went from six to 60 clients almost overnight. Now we have more than 120,” says Rudnick, also a professor of practice in law. “I’m always thinking about how ILC students can benefit other students on campus and companies throughout the region.”
Ergo his emphasis on effective client management—asking the right questions at the right time to achieve clarity and understanding.
Viviana Bro, a third-year law student, discovered this during her first day on campus, when she met Rudnick at a student-faculty luncheon. Today, the senior researcher is among the program’s elite.
“I came here because of ILC, whose entrepreneurial environment reminds me of the West Coast,” says Bro, a veteran of California’s semiconductor industry. “The program has taught me that a lawyer can be a fundamental partner or ally instead of someone who always says ‘no.’”
Bro’s projects also reflect ILC’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. The Chilean-born scholar recalls working with three entrepreneurs on an app that connects people who are deaf and hard of hearing to American Sign Language interpreter services. “Today, the app is widely available,” she says. “We hope it becomes as ubiquitous and easy-to-use in the deaf community as Uber is for city passengers wishing to hail a ride.”
Supporting an Innovation Ecosystem
David Eilers ’80, who teaches part-time in ILC, says the program’s success is measured in different ways. “Sometimes, the best thing we can do for a client is deliver bad news, saving them millions of dollars down the road. Other times, we’re able to hand them off to a good patent attorney or an investor who helps get their product off the ground.”
An adjunct professor in management and law, Eilers credits ILC for staying nimble amid an uncertain global economy. The key to ILC’s longevity, he surmises, is being different things to different people.
“If you’re a client from New York state, we can serve you as the Science and Technology Law Center. If you’re from out of state or overseas, we can work with you as a tech incubator, with no territorial restrictions,” says Eilers, who also teaches in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program. “Thanks to support from Empire State Development [New York’s chief economic development agency], we can do pro bono or low-bono work and pay our students.”
Eilers is struck by the similarity between scientific and legal literacy. “Just as there’s a hypothesis to prove in the scientific method, there’s a business thesis needing to be attacked through a rigorous discovery process. Good data is key.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in Central New York, where ILC enjoys longstanding relationships with Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars at Syracuse University Libraries, the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental Energy Systems, the Center for Advanced Systems and Engineering, and the CNY Biotech Accelerator.
“Some of our most gratifying projects are those conceived and cultivated in our own backyard,” says Rudnick, recalling a recent collaboration with the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry involving tissue engineering. “We want to make New York state and the world a better place to live.”