Albany Law, SUNY Poly Launch Interdisciplinary ‘Innovation Clinic’ to Commercialize Tech

Software Development
Software Development

Albany Law School and the SUNY Polytechnic Institute are teaming up to offer law, business and engineering students a program to gain hands-on experience in shepherding SUNY products from the lab to the market. The aim is to learn firsthand how commercializing technology includes not just science and engineering expertise, but legal and regulatory prowess.

To be sure, the announcement isn’t Albany Law’s first collaboration with SUNY. Indeed, since 2004 SUNY’s Research Foundation has offered Albany Law students internships to essentially manage SUNY’s patents. Albany Law is also no stranger to technology, as it recently offered a course for students to create tech solutions for legal challenges. This new venture with SUNY Poly, however, brings students with differing expertise and majors together with the goal of making a technology product purchasable by the public.

The program, called the Innovation Intensive Clinic, will launch this fall and will be open to 2L and 3L Albany Law students, who aren't required to have an engineering or tech background, and SUNY Poly business and engineering students.

Specifically, law students will use their legal skills to negotiate contracts and patents and consider any regulatory requirements for their team’s product. They will also extend their knowledge of the tech field through working with engineers, said Albany Law president and dean Alicia Ouellette.

Ouellette noted the program was a response to a growing employer demand for lawyers to understand technology and be able to work with tech professionals. The program also serves to commercialize technology created by SUNY, which includes products related to semiconductor sensors, computer chips, drones, and biomedical and life sciences innovations.

“Part of our mission at SUNY is to commercialize technology, to get SUNY technology from lab to market,” said Heather Hage, Research Foundation vice president for industry and external affairs. “To do that, university startups are an increasingly common way to make that happen.”

She added, lawyers "are working hand-in-hand with scientists who have deep, deep expertise in their discipline. It's that convergences of those areas, the legal, business and scientist, that make the strongest teams in practice. You need those things together."

Indeed, the composition of many tech startup includes a developer applying their tech knowledge to create a product and a lawyer leveraging her legal expertise to draft and negotiate contracts, file patents and navigate regulations.

Recently, for example, the lawyer-engineer duo behind Jet.Law and CaseGuide Inc. secured an investment from startup accelerator Y Combinator. What's more, artificial intelligence-powered contract manager Evisort, which is the brainchild of Harvard Law and MIT graduates, announced in February that it raised $4.5 million.

While the job market looks promising for lawyers who have experience working with engineers, Albany Law’s Ouellette noted that the experience of working with people with different expertise can also provide an invaluable skill set for any professional.

“I think it's a really phenomenal opportunity for students to be immersed in what is a different culture, just like a language immersion program, you will be fluent in tech and you can’t lose with gaining that knowledge,” she said.