UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Rachel Herder knows a thing or two about how complex systems work. As director of the Penn State Law Intellectual Property Clinic and assistant professor of clinical law, she leverages her multiple degrees and experience in life sciences patent law to help entrepreneurs across Pennsylvania determine how to properly secure a patent, trademark, copyright or trade secret.
The IP Clinic is located at Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank in downtown State College, but Herder, along with the IP Clinic’s staff attorney and her team of law students, travel throughout the commonwealth giving workshops and doing one-on-one consulting, as well as using video conferencing to meet with remote clients. IP Clinic services are free and open to any Pennsylvania business or person.
“I am constantly impressed by how creative and thoughtful the law students are at Penn State Law,” said Herder. “They are committed to helping entrepreneurs and getting them on the right path.”
The IP Clinic also works in tandem with the Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic, directed by Professor Tom Sharbaugh. It allows law students to represent entrepreneurs, startups and nonprofit organizations. The two legal clinics work together in a setting that is similar to a small law firm.
Herder has an affinity for startups in the biotech arena where she has both experience and passion.
“While the work I am doing serves a wide range of clients, from 7-year-olds to 80-year-olds, with products from gunsights to breweries and distillers, I am particularly fond of early-stage companies in the medical, therapeutic and diagnostic fields.”
Her background explains why. Herder came to Penn State in 2017 via San Francisco and Boston where she worked as a patent attorney for startups and early-stage companies at Wilson Sonsini, which has the largest life-sciences-focused patent practice in the world. Prior to working with Wilson Sonsini, Herder was a student at University of Minnesota earning two degrees — a doctorate in molecular, cellular, developmental biology and genetics, and a law degree.
While she grew up in Wisconsin and attended the University of Colorado as an undergrad, she currently lives in State College — walking distance from her office at the Happy Valley LaunchBox, where she oversees a group of budding attorneys, who provide legal services to startups.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to work at a large, public, land-grant university,” said Herder. “Penn State is highly regarded with so many successful programs, experts and interdisciplinary activities that it made me want to be a part of that energy.”
She said the success of Invent Penn State and, in particular, the work that James Delattre, assistant vice president for research and director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization; Jim Pietropaolo, associate director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization; and Tom Sharbaugh, director of the Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic, are doing to increase the quantity and quality of startup companies emerging from Penn State has helped propel the work at the IP Clinic.
“We are insanely busy, which is a good thing because it speaks to the robust entrepreneurial interest students, faculty, researchers and community members have in solving real-world problems,” she said.
Currently, there is a waiting list of entrepreneurs needing IP Clinic resources, so those who are interested should make an appointment early; and even though there is a waiting list, be patient.
"You can blow your opportunity for patent rights if you share the technology before you have protections in place,” Herder said.
As the IP Clinic continues to expand its work with students, faculty and researchers, Herder knows it will be increasingly important to work together.
“As the Penn State community aims its groundbreaking research at creating real-world solutions, it will be critical to collaborate with entrepreneurs, so their visions are protected,” she said.
Herder points to the annual Business of Science Bootcamp held in May 2019 as an example of this kind of collaboration. The bootcamp, directed by Professor Donna Korzick, chair of the Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Integrative and Biomedical Physiology and professor of physiology and kinesiology, trains scientists to expand their business acumen in entrepreneurship. Funded through a National Institutes of Health Training grant, the annual bootcamp leverages the connections across the community, including professors from the Huck Institute of the Life Sciences, Smeal College of Business, and Penn State Law, as well as local entrepreneurs, and 1855 Capital, a venture capital fund.