University-based venture incubators play a unique role in the entrepreneurial landscape. The first-time entrepreneurs that often populate these institutionally funded innovation hubs have a perfect mix of drive, fearlessness, and support from business faculty and mentors. Coming up with the next “big thing” is rarely an issue in these spaces, but an issue that often arises is how to protect that “thing.” The role of university incubators can take on different forms depending on the institution. This article looks at how new entrepreneurs’ participating in one university-based incubator conceptualize intellectual property (IP), how law clinics can reinforce the importance of intellectual property in these types of spaces, and how an active university startup ecosystem can raise complex IP ownership questions. The author’s role as a member and former chief operating officer of Northeastern University School of Law’s IP CO-LAB (law clinic) and service as the joint legal officer at Northeastern University’s IDEA Venture Accelerator (IDEA) and Northeastern University’s Center for Entrepreneurship Education (NUCEE) provide the backdrop for this exploration. These roles kept the author in constant contact with new university-based entrepreneurs that understood intellectual property is important even if the burgeoning business did not know how or why.
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