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Benedum grant promotes student innovation at WVU and in state

West Virginia University will be better able to help students turn ideas into industry, thanks to a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. The $80,000 grant will support a student intellectual property patent services pilot project.

A joint effort of WVU’s College of Law, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design, and Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, SIPPS will support provisional patent applications of students enrolled in West Virginia colleges and universities.

With a number of courses of study and competitions encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation, the team behind the grant thought the time was right to bolster WVU’s patent resources.

Patricia Hureston Lee, visiting associate professor and director of WVU’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Law Clinic, noted that WVU faculty have long supported students in their pursuit of protecting their intellectual property. The Benedum grant, she explained, would formalize that support and foster critical mass that may lead to even more patent support services for students.

Law clinic students, supervised by faculty, have provided intellectual property and a variety of legal services to West Virginia student competitors in the West Virginia Statewide Business Plan Competition over the past five years and, more recently, the West Virginia Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge. In the last three years, the law clinic has been an approved Trademark Clinic Pilot Project with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO), whereby trademarks get expedited review.

“Our hope is that through the SIPPS pilot here at WVU, the law clinic will, in the long term, develop a patent program that will be a Patent Clinic Project of the USPTO, allowing for expedited review for patents as well,” Lee said.

According to Fonda Holehouse, teaching associate professor of agricultural and resource economics in the Davis College and one of Lee’s colleagues in the project, the SIPPS pilot will provide WVU with the resources to coordinate student innovations so that they are able to get provisional patents through outside counsel. This will help to develop a pipeline from West Virginia to the USPTO with the end goal of a fully functioning patent law clinic at WVU. It will also provide WVU law students with experience in the patent process.

“The great news is that there will be funds available for patent filings for these student innovations,” Lee said. “Also wonderful is the fact that there is finally a collaborative solution to assist students who want to obtain provisional patents.”

WVU’s status as an innovation incubator makes that coordination essential.

Holehouse has long seen the need for patent support for students. She coaches teams through the West Virginia Statewide Business Plan Competition, having advised both of last year’s winners, and she knows that the need for intellectual property protection is critical.

She has also partnered with the Statler College and other entities in the creation of the West Virginia Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge, which encourages college and high school students of all academic ranks and majors to develop and commercialize innovative technology in the fields of environment, energy, engineering, medicine and the natural and applied sciences.

James Smith, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Center for Industrial Research Applications, represents the Statler College on the SIPPS project. Like Holehouse, he places a high value on mentoring student innovators.

“You need two things for innovation to occur,” Smith said. “You need a good idea, and you need a person with a fire in their belly.”

Smith said that the SIPPS project and resources like it will be critical to identifying those students with both idea and desire and then providing them with the services they need to get their ideas to market.

The Benedum grant was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $750 million comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2015.

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