By Francie Weinberg (4JM) and Richard Goldstein
With the help of UF Law alumni, faculty and students a technology- centric cluster of businesses known as Innovation Square next to and facilitated by the University of Florida may be nearing its economic escape velocity. Innovation Hub is an incubator building — within the broader Innovation Square development — that grows entrepreneurial businesses, technology and ideas. Lawyers are increasingly giving those entrepreneurs a hand navigating the contracts, incorporations and intellectual-property problems encountered by businesses in biotech, information technology and mobile application development. Law firms and lawyers are delivering the business and specialized intellectual property services to bring products to the marketplace.
Jeff Lloyd (JD 87), a registered patent lawyer, sees Innovation Hub as a way for small companies to grow into larger ones. “These companies that are just trying to get off the ground have a way of becoming successful companies that are then ready to go out and move into bigger digs,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd’s firm, of Saliwanchik, Lloyd & Eisenschenk, maintains an office in the Hub and assists entrepreneurs with obtaining patents.
“We’ve been helping the university protect its inventions for over 25 years,” Lloyd said. “It’s important for us to show our support for them and make sure that we’re very easily accessible to them.”
As Innovation Hub nurses 25 startups, more established firms are starting to fill in the surrounding Innovation Square, said Ed Poppell, UF’s economic director — Innovation Square. Within the last year, Mindtree, an India-based software company; Sears Holding Company; and Mobiquity, a national mobile applications firm, have announced plans for the creation of hundreds of new jobs in the development located between the university campus and downtown Gainesville. The Square is in the former location of Alachua General Hospital, which was demolished in 2010.
Dean Mead, a commercial law firm with four Florida offices, has been involved with Innovation Square’s development through tax structuring and real estate work. Jack Bovay (JD 82, LLMT 88), Dean Mead’s Gainesville partner, hopes to see economic wins from Innovation Square. “We want the businesses to stay here and thrive here and employ our young people and keep our University of Florida graduates here in Gainesville,” he said.
GrayRobinson has responded to the growth with its first Gainesville office under the direction of Thomas C. McThenia Jr. The GrayRobinson partner said he intends to hire lawyers for the office.
“We chose Innovation Square as both the current and what we can see as the future opportunities,” said McThenia, whose practice focuses on intellectual property and venture capital. “It seemed to me, as a newcomer to Gainesville, as the best place to locate.”
Business and intellectual property lawyer Cathy Mitchell (JD 88) is expanding her practice from her home base in Princeton, N.J., to Gainesville, which includes a presence in Innovation Hub. She said the state of Florida, UF and the city’s nurturing of innovative startups contributed to her decision.
Inventions to store shelves
In the past decade, the UF Office of Technology Licensing has licensed university technology to more than 100 companies, according to its website. NanoPhotonica, whose top technological management are faculty or were trained at UF, is one of those companies. NanoPhotonica CEO Chris Morton describes the business as dedicated to applying breakthrough electro-optic technologies.
NanoPhotonica develops products that make it easier to see phone screens and highdefinition flat panels for companies in Asia. But before some of its most innovative products land on store shelves, Morton must sort out other puzzles — of the legal variety with the help of UF Law.
“That’s part of the theory of the Hub: to have these people available,” Morton said. “It’s nice to be able to say, ‘Hey listen, we might have uncovered some additional IP (intellectual property), can you be there for a halfhour?’ or ‘Can you meet with a potential investor of the company and give him your views on why the patents are strong?’”
So the Hub brings together lawyers with entrepreneurs who need their guidance. Morton said partners in Saliwanchik, Lloyd & Eisenschenk have been helpful in his work.
“It became a natural relationship that just sort of evolved,” Morton said. “And there are other patent attorneys and service providers there, too. They all give you the feeling that you can drop in and say, ‘Hi.’”
In an April 15 New Jersey Law Journal article, Mitchell summed up the method that technology companies, lawyers and universities use to bring innovative products to the marketplace. “Tech transfer offices receive invention disclosures from university faculty, staff and students. The offices typically evaluate these disclosures for their commercial possibilities and, when possible, license them to industry,” Mitchell wrote.
Issues related to patents, copyright and trademarks form the bulk of intellectual property law concerns. More generally, Mitchell wrote, “Lawyers enable transactions. They make sure that the deals go through smoothly. They minimize the client’s exposure to legal risk going forward.”
Poppell added that, ultimately, the growth of high-tech, high-paying jobs means opportunities for skilled professionals, including UF Law alumni. “It also creates career paths in Gainesville,” Poppell said. “The more jobs we create, the more opportunities we create for students to stay in Gainesville.”
The growing host of lawyers delivering legal services to the entrepreneurs in Innovation Square may also turn out to be a boon to students for interning opportunities. Mitchell said she appreciates the nearby resources of the law school and has already made use of one of them by working with a UF Law 3L intern.
Law firm leaders envision cross-pollination between UF Law and the creativity blossoming at Innovation Square. Michael Minton (JD 81, LLMT 82), immediate past president of Dean Mead and chairman-elect of the Board of Trustees for the University of Florida Law Center Association, noted that connections with Innovation Square inject practical experience into the curriculum.
“There’s a lot of conversation across the country about the nature of the third-year law school academic curriculum,” Minton said. “There’s a lot of movement toward more practical, more real-world exposure. The University of Florida has been very supportive of this effort. This is a way to teach new students about the balance of being a well-rounded business lawyer.”
In addition to working with Hub entrepreneurs, Lloyd is a UF Law adjunct professor, who trains the next generation of patent lawyers in Patent Drafting and Prosecution 1 and 2. The courses take students through the steps of being presented with an invention to obtaining a patent for it.
Lloyd said his Innovation Hub office makes him more accessible to students as well as the UF Office of Technology and Licensing. The law firm’s open-door policy encourages anyone to come by and ask questions or seek help. The Hub is designed to provide an affordable location and encourage more interaction among the tenants in the building.
Bovay, also an adjunct professor at UF Law, teaches Advising the Entrepreneur, a course for third-year students that delves into choice of entity, as well as governing and employment agreements.
“My goal for them is that they will be able to hold their own in a conversation with grayhairs like me when they first get started in the law practice,” said Bovay, who serves on the Law Center Association Board of Trustees. “I want them to have heard some of the terms and have some familiarity.”