By Chad Dundas
For Zachary Scott, education has never been the problem.
By the time he reached his third year of law school at UM, Scott already was loaded for bear in terms of classwork. He’d already received his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and earned a doctorate in immunology and virology from the University of Massachusetts. After jumping over to the legal world, he even spent time working at a boutique law firm in Boston before moving across the country to enroll at UM.
Just a year away from receiving his juris doctorate and diving into the professional world in Missoula, however, Scott had come to realize that western Montana wasn’t exactly overflowing with opportunities to get real-world experience in his chosen practice area: intellectual property and patent law.
Fortunately, that’s where UM’s Office of Technology Transfer was able to help.
In spring 2011, Scott became one of the first students to sign on for OTT’s Innovation Internship Program. Each year the fledgling program, initiated by UM’s Office of Technology Transfer, offers qualified students the chance to spend 10 to 20 hours per week working in the tech-transfer office, getting a practical introduction to OTT’s effort to bridge the gap between UM’s academic research and the private sector.
For Scott, the experience was just what the doctor ordered. No pun intended.
“From the perspective of a law student who has an interest in intellectual property law, there’s really no better way to get that kind of hands-on exposure,” Scott says. “By that I mean actually getting involved with inventors and getting involved with patent attorneys. If you come in and do a yearlong internship with the office of tech transfer, you’re going to get a lot of exposure to many different facets of that process.”
During the year he spent in OTT, Scott says he gained experience working on myriad projects, both small and large. Among other things, that meant pitching in with the University’s intellectual property portfolio by helping to manage the patents UM already holds, drafting provisional patents and interacting with the outside attorneys the school works with on a regular basis.
“Some of them aren’t the sexiest things,” he says of the projects he worked on, “but some of them are very exciting.”
On the latter end of the spectrum, Scott says he’s most proud of the strides he helped make on some of OTT’s better-known projects, such as Missoula’s Rivertop Renewables, and aiding in UM Professor Dave Poulsen’s work to use low-dose methamphetamine on patients who’ve suffered different types of brain injuries. All of that was thrilling for a student whose two passions are science and law, Scott says.
“The University of Montana has a lot of exciting research going on,” he says. “Some of that is fairly well-known in the community and on campus, and some of it isn’t. Some of it is a little bit behind the scenes, so one of the wonderful things about working in the office of tech transfer is that you really get to meet the scientists and researchers, and you get to see their state-of-the-art work.”
For OTT Director Joe Fanguy, the Innovation Internship Program was born partly out of necessity — the mission of his office is multifaceted and multidisciplinary, and there is simply a lot of work to be done — and part out of his own experiences as an undergraduate and graduate student. Fanguy studied chemistry at Mississippi State University and, like Scott, spent at least part of his academic life thinking he was going to become a scientist. In retrospect, he admits his education was heavy on coursework and light on how to actually bring his science to the marketplace.
“Throughout my study of chemistry,” he says, “I was never once exposed to anything about business or entrepreneurship or anything of that nature.”
Never was that more apparent than during his graduate-school experience, Fanguy says, when he and others partnered with a company in the United Kingdom to try to get a drug screening technology they’d developed into the commercial market. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the endeavor was eye-opening, and it changed Fanguy’s entire career path.
“The bad news is [the technology] never made it to the commercial market,” he says. “The good news is I gained a perspective of the opportunity that exists when you partner good academic research with the private sector.”
His interest in technology transfer duly sparked, Fanguy dabbled in intellectual property in an office at Mississippi State very similar to the one he would eventually lead at UM. Since coming north in 2009, he’s worked to expand the reach and overall mission of the Office of Technology Transfer as it attempts to help the school broaden and better manage its research and development efforts on all fronts.
The Innovation Internship Program is part of that drive, and Fanguy hopes it can give students in multiple disciplines the chance to get the kind of crash course he never got as a budding chemist. Within the bounds of the program, he is able to put law students such as Scott to work gaining valuable practice with intellectual property, as well as overseeing interns from the business school and the scientific disciplines as they work on behalf of the University in business development, marketing and entrepreneurial support. By the time their internships are over, Fanguy says, most students get the opportunity to try their hands at all of the above, sharpening important skills each step of the way.
“I think the experience is the key,” he says. “Most of our interns work here because they’re looking for an opportunity to apply what they’ve been learning in the classroom and get some real-life experience.”
Since beginning with just one student from the business school, the program now takes on between two and four interns each year. Fanguy hopes those numbers increase little by little as the program gains more of a foothold on campus. In addition, he says the internship program is part of an overall effort to increase student engagement and give students more opportunities to hone their crafts before taking on the working world.
“I feel that we’ve had great success with the program,” Fanguy says. “A number of outstanding students have worked with us in our office doing great things. Now we’ve been able to expand in other ways of student engagement as well. On a personal level, that’s really one of my passions.”
For a student like Scott, his involvement with the Office of Technology Transfer proved invaluable just before graduation. He now operates his own practice in Missoula working in — what else? — patent and intellectual property law, putting to work his considerable talents, his considerable education and his considerable experience.
“The most enjoyable and interesting aspect of working through the office of tech transfer is you get to have access not only to the individual personalities who are doing research, but also what they’re working on,” he says. “What are their plans? What are their next steps? How are these technologies and discoveries that they’re making at The University of Montana going to translate to everyday life?”
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