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Friday, November 16, 2012

2L Uses Science Background, Patent Knowledge to Help UC Scientist

For Natasha Iyer, a 2L, some of her happiest days are when she is back in the science lab.

Iyer got her chance to return to her scientific roots when she met up with UC Berkeley Bioengineering Professor David Schaffer, as part of UC Hastings College of the Law’s Innovation Law Clinics.

Schaffer is getting assistance from the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), a University of California incubator, and UC Hastings’ Innovation Law Clinics to help speed his ability to bring novel therapeutics to market.

UC Hastings operates two Innovation Law Clinics. The Startup Technology Clinic helps small technology entities get off the ground, and the BioEntrepreneurship Clinic helps biotech startups.

The BioEntrepreneurship clinic pairs students interested in intellectual property with inventors and early-stage companies who need help transforming their ideas into patentable and marketable products. The student work is supervised pro bono by experienced lawyers at Bay Area law firms, in this case, Michael Shuster of Fenwick & West.

Iyer is one of several students participating in the Innovation Law Clinics, led by Professor Robin Feldman. For Iyer, it’s a natural progression of a scientific career that began in the lab. She did her undergraduate studies in microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics and focused a large part of her time studying infectious diseases and health policy.

UC Hastings was her top choice for law school because of its focus on IP and health law. She is concurrently getting a master’s in infectious diseases at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, commuting daily between the two campuses. Iyer credits UC Hastings, and its emphasis on interdisciplinary study, with having the flexibility that allowed her to pursue both degrees together. 

Through the Innovation Law Clinics, she is working with Schaffer to help the startup move from idea to therapeutic. Schaeffer leads a research lab at UC Berkeley that applies molecular and cellular engineering approaches to biomedical problems, with a focus on engineering of stem cell and other gene therapeutics. He is also director of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center.  The start-up he co-founded focuses on bringing one such molecular therapeutic to market.

“Launching a successful biotech is hard,” said Doug Crawford of QB3. “You have to have rock solid IP and freedom-to-operate, but fledgling startups are in no position to evaluate these complex issues.  Happily, UC Hastings’ Innovation Law Clinics have come to the rescue.  These energetic students and generous law firms have already put several companies on a more solid footing.”

And the program has worked out personally for Iyer. “I lucked out. My experience has been right on point,” Iyer said. “It was quite a coincidence being matched with Dr. Schaffer’s company. He has been trying to get his invention patented since 2004. This summer I worked at the U.S. Patent Office, in the exact department he has been receiving push back from. I feel I have a firm grasp on the thought process of both sides involved and can really help foster understanding between the two.”

Iyer sees her role as helping scientists translate the intricacies of a discovery or invention into a marketable product. “While I loved laboratory science, I think my strengths lie more in speaking than researching.  I can help scientists articulate their inventions and make them accessible to others by bringing my knowledge of both subjects to the table,” Iyer said. “It’s why I wanted to be an attorney in the first place: to take the ideas I saw so passionately pursued in the lab and convert them into something we share with the public..”

Iyer is one of 20 students working with the Innovation Law Clinics, helping budding technology and biotechnology innovators develop their ideas and trouble-shoot legal issues

“The most valuable experience comes from solving real problems for real clients, “said Feldman. “Our students learn what it is like in the trenches, and they gain that experience with both senior attorneys and clinical faculty guiding them along the way.”

It’s shown Iyer a way to blend her passions. “The Innovation Law Clinic is giving me real hands-on experience and a chance to work with people who are doing groundbreaking research,” Iyer said. “I couldn’t be happier with the direction things are going."

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