How Jefferson Guides Students Through the Intellectual Property Process

The University prepares global fashion enterprise and industrial design students for their careers.

From analyzing global copyright standards at some of the world’s biggest brands to patenting an innovative medical device, Jefferson’s design students get a unique look into the world of intellectual property (IP) when creating their own designs.

Both fashion and industrial design students gain real-world knowledge about IP that they put to the test in their coursework and capstones, preparing them for successful careers once they graduate. Here’s a look into the process.

Designing for the Real World
For fashion students, learning about IP and the various rules and processes around copyright infringement is crucial because of the nature of fashion design. Shubha Bennur, director of the MS in global fashion enterprise program, teaches a course dedicated to licensing and IP in fashion.

Fashion design consists of colors, symbols and patterns that are easy to replicate—whether intentionally or accidentally, says Shubha Bennur, who teaches a Jefferson course on licensing and IP in fashion. [ Tan]

“It’s extremely important to teach fashion students about licensing, the risks of copyright infringement and how it varies for brands all over the world so they can avoid negative consequences,” Bennur says. “It’s a big concern for recent grads.”

Fashion design consists of colors, symbols and patterns that are easy to replicate, whether intentionally or accidentally, she says. “I want my students to connect their work to the real world, consider these processes when they’re designing and have the tools to protect themselves against copyright infringement.”

She explains that IP processes vary greatly in different parts of the world, especially between Europe, Asia and the United States. “Many of our students are international, so a lot of them will find jobs in different countries and will need to be familiar with a set of copyright laws different from those in the U.S.,” Bennur says.

It’s extremely important to teach fashion students about licensing, the risks of copyright infringement and how it varies for brands all over the world so they can avoid negative consequences.
–Shubha Bennur, MS in Global Fashion Enterprise Program Director

In the course, each student investigates the copyright laws in a country of their choice. This makes the teachings more applicable to her students’ lives and allows other students to learn about fashion globally from their peers. Bennur also guides students for careers with some of the world’s biggest brands, like Adidas and Nike, and asks students to use their knowledge of IP to create licensing strategies on a large scale.

“It’s a unique learning experience—one that will prepare our students for their careers in the real world, no matter where they go,” she says.

Form Follows Function
Unlike fashion students, industrial design students learn to patent products because of their function rather than their look or design. “Great American architect Louis Sullivan declared that ‘form follows function,’ and good design often seamlessly unites how a thing works with how it looks,” says Tod Corlett, director of the BS and MS in industrial design programs. “In our program, our students design innovative, fully functional ideas and products all the time, so we teach them how to protect their own IP.”

Students pitch their work at JeffSolves
Industrial design and medical students pitch their “Grip’N’Go” concept at the 2021 JeffSolves MedTech.

Some industrial design students take steps to protect their own IP during their graduate capstone projects or in programs like JeffSolves MedTech. The medical technology program brings together medical and industrial design students to create products, like medical devices, for urgent healthcare problems.

“JeffSolves challenges our students to come up with innovative solutions to extremely complex, real-life challenges,” says Eric Schneider, assistant professor of industrial design. “It also teaches them to collaborate with multiple departments and disciplines within design. Many of these students continue with their projects after the program ends because they’ve generated valuable IP that can become a profitable company or license.”

hairbrush device for people with disabilities
For people with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, the “Hairbrush Helper” developed by industrial design student Jennifer Hegelein is being considered for open source to expand its availability.

Open-Source Altruism
While some students choose to patent their designs or claim them as their own IP, others release them as open source so anyone may use them, says Schneider, who describes one project in development.

“A group of graduate students are developing assistive devices for people with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), a rare disease where patients gradually lose mobility,” he says. “Some of these students are looking at creating a kit of parts that act as extension tools for everyday tasks, like grooming and dressing. They hope to make this kit easy to distribute all over the world and allow the design files to be downloadable so they can be 3D printed anywhere. This is being done in partnership with the IFOPA, an international advocacy organization for the FOP patient population.”

[Main photo credit: Tan]

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