Intellectual Property Practicum – The Faculty Perspective

Today we continue our focus on the practicum requirement of our third year curriculum with an interview with Professor Sally Wiant. Professor Wiant leads our Intellectual Property practicum. In the  course catalog, this practicum is described as follows:

“This practicum will introduce students to trademark law and copyright law, doctrine, and policy. The course will focus on private enforcement of rights as opposed to government action through anti-trust laws and trade regulation. In the trademark area, the emphasis will be on misappropriation of marks or product configuration, false advertising, and trademark infringement in both the traditional markets as well as on the internet. In the copyright area, students will consider rights in literary works, including art, software, and music. Copyright and web issues will be addressed. Students will conduct interviews, perform research, draft documents, and engage in exercises relating to registration and licensing.”

For you, what do you hope your students get out of your practicum?

My intention is that students will know how to begin working on any IP assignment that is handed to them during their first year of practice.

What do you think about when designing this kind of course?

I think about the types of projects that a young associate is likely to receive during the first couple of years of practice. I attempt to design a series of projects that range from federally registering  a copyright and federally registering a  trademark, drafting policy papers, drafting licensing clauses or complaints and answers to writing a trial brief, instead of an appellate brief, and arguing points of law.

In what ways is a practicum/your practicum different from a lecture-based course?

Instead of an exam at the end of the term, students regularly receive assignments to be done individually or as a team, depending on the particular project.  In addition, students must learn how to work as a member of a team. This collaborative aspect is perhaps one of the biggest differences between a practicum and a lecture-based course.

Are there things you can do, topics you can cover in a practicum course that would be harder to accomplish in a lecture-based class? 

The best way to learn anything is through doing.  A person becomes more proficient at sports or music, for example, by coaching and practice.  Talking about how to register a copyright or a trademark is only that–talk.  Learning how to search the Principal Register and to make assessments based on a research report prior to writing a letter to a client explaining the risk of entering the market with a particular mark cannot be duplicated in a lecture class.

Do you think the experiences your students have in your practicum will help them be better lawyers? If so, how/why?

The short answer is yes. They will be better lawyers entering the market because they will have already drafted a complaint or answer or attempted a negotiation before arriving at their first job.  They have learned to manage their time, become more proficient in their research, more concise in their drafting and work well with others. These are critical professional skills and it’s important students cultivate and hone them before entering the “real world.”

What do you think the hardest thing is for students in terms of adjusting to this different style of learning? 

Students like to compartmentalize their learning.  Practicum courses force them to think across disciplines.  Practical learning classes force students to take more responsibility for their learning and to rely less on the faculty member to spoon feed them the knowledge they are expected to learn.

Any particularly favorite moments from your classes in the past?

In teaching a class on rights of publicity a student provided me with a link to a life-sized image of Tiger Woods carved out of butter.  There is no end to the possibilities for infringement.  In Torts last fall, while teaching a landmark case involving joint liability among defendants who had been hunting, a student commented “well, when I got shot…”  The class and I broke into laughter.  Fortunately, it was the end of the hour and I didn’t need to bring them back under control.

How do you feel your class fits into a student’s larger law school experience?

I have long believed in the concept of capstone courses in which students are required to pull together learning from the specific class as well as procedure and skills. My practicum provides students with just this sort of opportunity.

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