IP law students to compete in developing new medical technologies


Two men walking in a hallway, having a confersation

Akron Law 2L student Doson Nguyen discusses the NEOvations Bench to Bedside program with its director, NEOMED’s Dr. Fayez Safadi.

Students in The University of Akron (UA) School of Law’s intellectual property (IP) law program will help develop much-needed medical technologies in a new, interdisciplinary student competition launched by Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED).

Akron Law is one of three lead academic partners in NEOMED’s NEOvations Bench to Bedside (B2B) annual competition, joining Kent State University’s College of Business Administration and the biomedical engineering program at Cleveland State University (CSU). Qualified students from other institutions are also encouraged to participate. There is no cost to the students.

Modeled on a highly successful, 10-year-old program at University of Utah Health, NEOvations B2B provides a structure for teams of students studying health, business, engineering and law to gain real-world experience in developing new products and starting companies, according to the program’s director, Dr. Fayez Safadi, professor of anatomy and neurobiologyand director of the Musculoskeletal Research Group at NEOMED.

“It is designed to be an intensive experiential education,” Safadi said. “The students will maintain ownership of their technology while gaining experience in accelerating new technologies from concept to commercialization.”

Different strengths

“The basis for the collaboration is that students from different disciplines bring different strengths to the team — just as would any founding team in a startup,” said Akron Law Professor Mark Schultz, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company Chair in Intellectual Property Law and director of the UA Center for Intellectual Property Law and Technology.

“The med students understand the medical issues. The biomedical engineering students can design devices and other tech. The business students know how to research market opportunities. The law students understand how to design a product and secure legal rights so that a startup can attract investment and protect its business. Our law students will evaluate the patent landscape, consider other forms of IP and contractual protection, and work to establish a regulatory pathway for commercialization.”

NEOvations B2B is the brainchild of NEOMED President Dr. John Langell, who joined the university a year ago. Prior to NEOMED he served as vice dean for the School of Medicine at University of Utah Health, where he founded the original Bench to Bedside competition. Over the last nine years, the Utah program has engaged more than 1,000 students in 238 inter-disciplinary teams that have spawned innovative new health care technologies. More than 65 of these teams have moved forward to commercialize their creations, and some successful new companies have been established.

“This is a compelling opportunity for our law students,” Schultz continued. “We have about 10 who are interested in joining one of the teams. This is just the first year, but I am optimistic that it will become a major part of our IP program. We have such a large group of IP students at Akron — 20% of our students are patent bar qualified — that some of them are bound to be entrepreneurs. I look forward to seeing this program launch careers and successful businesses while helping patients.”

Real healthcare challenges

The NEOvations B2B students will have plenty of help in identifying unmet medical needs, Safadi explained. NEOvations has lined up clinicians and researchers from NEOMED, Cleveland Clinic, Akron Children’s Hospital and other area hospitals for a series of online presentations where they will pitch their own real-world clinical problems that seem like they might have a technology solution.

As the student teams organically come together to focus on the challenge of their choosing, they will receive ongoing support and advice from the doctors and researchers who pitched specific problems as well as other medical, industry and academic professionals.

In April, at the end of the seven-month program, teams will present their projects to a panel of judges for a chance to win prize money to be used to further develop their technologies. The judges will include health and industry professionals, investors and university leaders.

The NEOMED Foundation has provided $50,000 in seed money for the program, and Safadi and Langell, both of whom are entrepreneurs and inventors in their own right, have raised more from corporate sponsors. Almost all of the money will be plowed back into prizes and prototype funding for the teams.

A student-led program

Beyond Safadi, there is no staff at NEOMED running NEOvations B2B.

“The program is largely student-run,” said second-year (2L) Akron Law student Doson Nguyen, one of four students designated to serve on the program’s leadership team. Nguyen, the law chair, is joined by CSU biomedical engineering grad student Tayluer Streat, who is the engineering chair; CSU MBA candidate Tim Nagy, who is the treasurer; and Phoebe Otchere, a joint M.D./MBA student at NEOMED and Youngstown State University, who is the team’s president.

“We’re working with Dr. Safadi to design the curriculum, organize the virtual presentations, and recruit more students,” Nguyen said. “As of the end of October, 65 have registered to participate.”

Nguyen brings more to his role than most law students might. He is a retired U.S. Army combat medic with an education in biology, chemistry, and health science and nearly 10 years of medical and bioscience experience.

NEOvations B2B kicked off its series of presentations on Oct. 22 with an information session on Zoom led by Safadi. All the sessions will soon be archived on the NEOvations B2B teams’ website, which is still under construction.

To learn more, visit neomed.edu/benchtobedside.