As one of 22 students in Stanford Law School’s Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic this year, Jamie Dohopolski, JD ’21, seized on a promising opportunity: helping Engine, an advocacy and research nonprofit that supports technology startups, draft comments to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) arguing for greater diversity in the innovation space.
“If you’re looking to increase diversity in innovation, you have to look at what happens before the patent,” says Dohopolski. Researching disparities in the innovation pipeline, she discovered that both women and people of color are underrepresented—due in large part to difficulties they face accessing capital, tapping professional networks, and obtaining training in entrepreneurship and STEM subjects.
Dohopolski, together with Matt Dhaiti, JD ’22, produced 30-pages of comments that cite statistics revealing racial and gender disparities in patent awardees and recommend that the PTO fund incubators targeted to entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups. Among other recommendations, the team suggests that the PTO remove inventors’ names from patent applications both to reduce bias and increase the likelihood that private backers invest in startups founded by women and people of color.
The Juelsgaard Clinic is one of 11 clinical programs at Stanford Law that fall under the umbrella of the Mills Legal Clinic. Launched in 2013 with a gift from Stephen Juelsgaard, JD ’82, the policy-focused clinic is designed to teach students how to advocate for laws and regulations that increase gender and racial equity and promote creativity and innovation as drivers of economic growth.
Through hands-on client interactions, research, and writing, students build their practical understanding of IP and tech law and policy, says Phillip R. Malone, the clinic’s director and an IP specialist who came to Stanford from Harvard Law School in 2013. More recently, Juelsgaard students have begun examining the intersection of technology, race, and law.
“Technology is designed by people and often reflects and even exacerbates racial biases and structural barriers,” says Malone. “So there are all the same racial disparities and concerns that we see in society as a whole.” Clinical students have considered, for example, the equitable allocation of COVID-19 vaccines and ways to break down racial and class barriers to obtaining legal services. And they have written briefs in support of innovators developing technology that lowers the cost of legal help.
Participation in the Mills Legal Clinic requires a full-time commitment for one quarter or more—students do not take other classes while they’re enrolled. Clinic students work in pairs researching, writing, and honing legal and policy arguments, engaging with clients, interviewing experts, and analyzing cases. Juelsgaard clients include nonprofits and NGOs focused on information technology, pharmaceuticals, biotech, and more. As a group, students complete as many as 15 cases or projects per quarter in areas ranging from copyright and FDA regulation to patents and antitrust.
For one of her projects, Olivia Malone, JD ’22, along with Dolan Bortner, JD ’22, worked with a nonprofit advocacy group to analyze new “right to repair” legislation (giving consumers the right to repair their own, say, cars or electronic devices without being forced to use the manufacturers’ services). Malone (no relation to Professor Malone) and Bortner researched existing and proposed right-to-repair laws and prepared an extensive guidance document that addressed nuanced issues those laws might raise related to antitrust, the First Amendment, IP, and environmental sustainability.
In the seven years since the clinic’s launch, students have written 25 amicus briefs for cases before the Supreme Court and many others for courts of appeals and district courts, and even for the European Court of Human Rights. In the Google v. Oracle copyright case that was decided by the Supreme Court this year, students wrote an amicus brief on behalf of 83 of the world’s most prominent computer scientists, explaining the details of software programming interfaces and how reimplementing them is a long-standing practice in the computer industry. The brief urged, and the Court ultimately decided, that reimplementing interfaces is protected under copyright law’s fair use doctrine. For another case that’s currently before the Court, students wrote an amicus brief on behalf of 34 IP professors, arguing that the Federal Circuit has improperly expanded the doctrine of assignor estoppel, which prohibits the seller of a patent from later claiming that the patent is invalid. But clinics are about more than legal research and memo writing. For Dohopolski, working with Engine was a valuable lesson in advocacy.
“It was more removed from the legal branch than anything I’d done,” she says. “It challenged my writing and analytical skills to write for an audience that isn’t exclusively legal but is adjacent to the law.”
Students also learn to avoid ideological extremes, such as the belief that IP laws should always be strengthened to protect innovators, or that IP laws stymie innovation and should be curtailed, explains Professor Malone. Rather, students gain the skills to examine the nuances in each case to determine the appropriate approach, which, “not surprisingly, is usually somewhere in the middle,” he says.
Some clinic alumni pursue careers at government bodies like the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice while others join law firms, congressional staffs, or advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Olivia Malone has yet to decide on her post-graduation plans but is grateful for the practical education and perspective the clinic has given her.
“I was looking for an idea of what the day-to-day of an IP lawyer would be like, what the conversations would be, how the interactions go, how to take the client’s problem and start addressing it,” she says. “The clinic made me more comfortable with practice and confident about my ability as a developing lawyer.” SL
Louise Lee was a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal and is now a frequent contributor to WSJ and Stanford Lawyer.