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Marshall University works to help researchers learn about patent law

Jul. 10, 2010 @ 09:50 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Researchers spend hours upon hours in their labs, working toward a discovery that could not only improve lives in some way, but eventually turn a profit.

There are many steps and precautions to take on the road from research to having a viable and successful commercial enterprise. One of them is finding a way to protect your work with a patent, and Marshall University is working diligently not only to help its researchers apply for patents but to learn the intricacies of the process -- early on.

Last week, about a dozen researchers gathered at Marshall to listen to representatives of the law firm that represents Marshall University in the field of patent attainment and protection. Terry Wright and David Nagle of the Southeast-based law firm Stites & Harbison, talked to them about what kind of protection is available for different types of intellectual property -- like patents, trademarks, copyrights, contracts and more -- and how long the terms are for each.

In terms of inventions and discoveries, they talked about the types of patents, what qualifies for one, how they're obtained, what exactly a patent protects, and how to prevent researchers from sabotaging their own patents before they even apply.

Marshall University has a Technology Transfer office that is in the process of helping about 30 researchers work toward patents, said Amy Anastasia, assistant director of the office. But the workshop was an extra step to get them thinking in more legal terms earlier in the process.

"It's part of what we're doing to support faculty research and promote economic development in the region," said Ginny Painter, communications director for the Marshall University Research Corporation.

The workshop got into some nitty-gritty about what qualifies in biological research and what could get a professor into trouble with his or her patent, and it was helpful, some researchers said.

"I thought it was useful because it's a murky field for those of us in science," said Dr. Richard Egleton, who's doing pharmacology research at the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology and Science Center. "At the moment, I don't have anything (that's patentable) but you never know what you'll have in three or four years."

One message expressed by the attorneys was that scientists need to be careful about predicting or divulging too much about their work in public or in public writing. It could later hurt their chances of getting a patent.

That's good to know, one professor said.

"Professors love to talk about their work," said Dr. Jagan Valluri of Marshall's College of Science, who's doing collaborative work on stem cell biology with Dr. Pier Paolo Claudio.

In large corporations, researchers are subject to a number of checks and balances regarding patent protection along the way, but in a university setting such as Marshall's -- which has delved into biotechnology only within the past decade -- there's much to be learned by the scientists in terms of legal matters.

The university is on the right path, in terms of educating its researchers in advance, said Nagle of Stites & Harbison, which technically represents the Marshall University Research Corporation, as well as universities such as the University of Kentucky, Vanderbilt, the University of Louisville and the University of Mississippi.

Valluri and Egleton agreed that Marshall has clearly made strides toward becoming a stronger research institution. The new facilities, such as the biotech building, are an example of that, and most of the new hires in Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine have been research-oriented, Egleton said.

Valluri likes that there's more collaboration now between the College of Science and the medical school. The biotech building has helped tremendously with that, he said.

The bridge that stretches over 3rd Avenue from the Science Building to the biotech center "literally bridges basic science and applied science, and our invention is a synergistic effort," he said.

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