Cloud computing has been around almost as long as the internet, but for students like Jay Morrison ’22, the possibilities of on-demand computer services are limitless. “I remember cloud storage emerging when I was younger,” says the Syracuse University senior, referring to remotely stored data accessed from any device. “It’s astonishing how important the cloud has become to the infrastructure of the internet and to the livelihood of businesses.”
A computer science major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), Morrison recently completed a 10-week program at the Innovation Law Center (ILC) in Dineen Hall. Morrison and fellow ECS classmate Brianna Gillfillian ’24 were supported by a new grant award from the Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (SOURCE) in the Office of Research. As charter members of the SOURCE Undergraduate Research Assistants program, both students spent the summer helping ILC clients while learning the ropes of intellectual property (IP) commercialization and technology transfer.
I remember cloud storage emerging when I was younger. It’s astonishing how important the cloud has become to the infrastructure of the internet and to the livelihood of businesses.—Jay Morrison ’22
One of their research projects involved the ILC’s IP Rights in Software guidebook. Working alongside instructors Molly Zimmermann and Dominick Danna ’67, ’71, the duo helped expand the text, which explores the role of IP protection in technology commercialization. The 28-page booklet is one of seven produced by the New York State Science and Technology Law Center (NYSSTLC), headquartered at the ILC in the College of Law. “Many of our clients are inventors and entrepreneurs,” notes ILC director Jack Rudnick L’73. “They need timely information about technology licensing, marketing and other commercialization challenges.” Thus, IP Rights in Software considers how three IP protection methods—patents, trade secrets and copyrights—maximize the commercialization potential for new software.
“The challenge is deciding whether the cost of seeking IP protection is worth the value it provides,” Morrison says. “Business owners want to know what method makes the most sense.”
Creating Value, Protecting Resources
An attorney doubling as NYSSTLC’s managing director, Zimmermann says different types of IP protect different aspects of inventions. A patent, for example, excludes others from making, using, selling or importing an invention for a set time, usually 20 years. “Patents can’t protect algorithms or source code, but they can protect the new and useful process that the software implements,” she explains, adding that one can register source code with the U.S. Copyright Office. Trade secret protection, on the other hand, does not require disclosure of a software’s source code or system architecture.
“IP establishes its value by giving the owner a competitive advantage over others working in the same space,” continues Zimmermann, who specializes in IP policy and academic research issues. Each type of IP has its pros and cons, and combining these approaches, sometimes with trademarks (a fourth type of IP), is preferable. “That’s why we created the guidebook—to help people understand the ways that IP protects computer-based inventions,” says Danna, who also mentored students working on the guidebook in 2019. “Jay and Brianna are improving on what the text covers, making it more comprehensive and relevant.”
When I joined ILC, I didn’t know much about technology law. Now I feel like I understand the different ways that technology can be protected. I also have learned about the importance of teamwork and faculty-guided research.—Brianna Gillfillian ’24
Speaking from her home in Kingston, Jamaica, Gillfillian observes that IP protection is often in a state of flux. “When I joined ILC, I didn’t know much about technology law. Now I feel like I understand the different ways that technology can be protected,” says the computer science major, who hopes to someday design her own protection software. “I also have learned about the importance of teamwork and faculty-guided research.”
She and Morrison came across ILC’s summer program on Handshake, an app that matches college students with jobs, internships and other opportunities. For Gillfillian, ILC has nurtured her passion for scholarly research. “We’re moving into a more technologically sophisticated era. Understanding the correlation between legal statutes and computer innovations will benefit my career,” she says.
Blending Law, Business and Technology
Founded more than 30 years ago, ILC was the nation’s first program to apply scholarly legal analysis and experiential education to technology commercialization. Students of all stripes—notably ones in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Martin J. Whitman School of Management—regularly vie for spots in the center’s experiential learning programs.
Cecily Capo, a second-year law student, partners with many of ILC’s 30-plus clients. “Getting hands-on experience with real technologies and real clients is something most law schools don’t offer,” says the former toxicology consultant. “Having this immersive experience has taught me about real-world application in law.”
In addition to helping Morrison and Gillfillian with their respective projects (including a joint one for Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York), Capo has proven her mettle as an ILC research associate. She recently advised a startup that makes applications for wireless charging as well as a client that provides soil-testing kits to farmers and home gardeners. “Not even first-year associates at most law firms get to interact with clients in this way,” she says. “ILC helps you try out an area of law that you’re interested in.”
The experience is invaluable for anyone wanting to work for a technology-based company or an IP management firm. ILC students invariably become proficient in business and technical writing.—Dominick Danna ’67, ’71, instructor
Owing largely to Rudnick, ILC has evolved into a year-round, multiservice resource. He attributes the success of its summer program to grants from Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation, the Central New York Biotech Accelerator, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the GENIUS NY business accelerator, Launch NY and other local and state organizations. “Now that the SOURCE has joined our list of partners, we can provide more opportunities for undergraduates like Brianna and Jay,” says Rudnick, adding that each ILC student completes three to five research projects per summer.
Among the perks of working at ILC is getting hands-on training in legal and market research. “The experience is invaluable for anyone wanting to work for a technology-based company or an IP management firm,” says Danna, NYSSTLC’s commercialization expert, who also is an adjunct professor in the College of Law and an award-winning electrical engineer. “ILC students invariably become proficient in business and technical writing.”
Morrison agrees, adding that ILC’s summer program has enriched their and Gillfillian’s communication chops: “ILC has taught us that we can accomplish more as a group than as individuals. In the process, we find new ways to create value.”