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  April 23, 2001

New Intellectual Property Program
at Law School in High Demand

With Napster and other legal battles involving copyright, trademark and patents becoming more commonplace and more complicated, lawyers with a firm grasp of intellectual property are in short supply and high demand.

A new program at the School of Law will provide a select group of students with intensive training in the growing field of intellectual property law, which concerns the legal regulation of mental products.

"There's more demand now for intellectual property lawyers than for any other type of lawyer," says Steven Wilf, an associate professor of law and one of four faculty members affiliated with the Program in Intellectual Property. "This program makes these students very, very attractive to prospective employers."

This semester, 15 first-year law students were selected for the program's first class. The students must take 15 credits of courses in the field, including a seminar; and an externship or supervised writing project. All law students must take at least 86 credits to graduate. Upon graduation, the students in the program will receive a certificate indicating their participatio n.

"They will be highly trained to tackle the unanticipated problem, which is the kind of problem solving most needed in the new information economy," Wilf says.

Law firms aren't waiting until graduation to familiarize themselves with the students in the program. This semester, several intellectual property practitioners and corporate legal counsels have spoken at the school during a series of 'intellectual property teas.'

The intellectual property faculty are also establishing a program that would ensure guaranteed summer employment for the students at law firms in the field.

The program is popular with law firms and students alike. Even before the program began, the first-year elective in intellectual property was one of the largest classes at the Law School. When the program was announced, about 30 students applied for the 15 available spots.

The class is a mix of day and evening students, people with technical backgrounds and those Wilf classifies as 'non-techies.'

Jeffrey Pease, a first-year law student, was among those selected for the program. Pease, who worked as a software engineer for five years before enrolling in law school, believes the program will help him in law school and in the future.

"I think it's nice because it creates a thread of coherence in your studies," Pease says. "The advantage after I graduate is that I can show employers I have a commitment to intellectual property."

The law school is one of just a handful in the country with a certificate program in intellectual property, says Wilf, adding that UConn's program has a much broader base than some of the others.

Even before the program was created, UConn was the only member of the Association of American Law Schools to offer an intellectual property course to first-year students, according to a recent survey by the association.

The idea for the program was born when two new faculty members, Wilf and Paul Schiff Berman, an associate professor of law who specializes in cyberlaw, joined an already strong existing faculty. With Lewis Kurlantzick, a copyright expert, and Willajeanne McLean, a leading scholar in trademark and international intellectual property issues, they decided to create an integrated curriculum.

Wilf says the program is "very much a work in progress. We're working with the Bar, with the students, with a lot of constituencies to create a rich and varied program."

With the program underway, Wilf hopes the next stage will be to create a center where intellectual property practitioners and policy experts could meet to exchange ideas.

"A few months ago, I saw a museum exhibit on furniture making in seventeenth-century China," Wilf says. "Furniture making reached an unparalleled level of excellence because craftsmen were required both to serve an apprenticeship and to work at the Emperor's palace for a few weeks each year, where in the course of their work, they would have the opportunity to exchange new ideas about woodworking.

"We want to be the Emperor's palace for the information economy."

Allison Thompson

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