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Entrepreneurship Clinic's Proactive Legal Help Contributes to Emblu's Success

By Lori Atherton
May 29, 2013

Three questions were top of mind for the cofounders of Emblu, a sustainability-focused startup, when they began working with Michigan Law's Entrepreneurship Clinic last winter: Could Emblu be protected under a patent?; What type of business entity would be right for their venture?; and, since Emblu retrieves wireless signals, were there potential legal issues concerning privacy?

The Emblu team, from left: Tim Dobson, Tirumalai Tejas, Cara Bastoni, Joe Colett, and Sundeep RamachandranEmblu, founded by five University of Michigan graduate students, is developing a software algorithm that uses wireless signals to sense occupants in a room and modify electrical and HVAC system usage accordingly.

Not only did the clinic's student attorneys answer Emblu's questions, they were proactive in identifying other issues. Among those was a change in patent law provisions from a "first to invent" to a "first to file" system, which could have future ramifications for the startup, said Emblu cofounder Tim Dobson, MS '13. The student attorneys advised Emblu on the best time to file their provisional patent application, and ensured that it happened.

"Because we had to file early for a patent, it meant that we needed to move quickly," Dobson said. "We started working with Michael [Liu, rising 3L] on February 1, and by March 14, the provisional patent application was filed. Michael did a tremendous amount of work in that time."

In addition, Dobson said, two other student attorneys with corporate law expertise—Justin Bonfiglio, '13, and Cliff Helm, '13—noted that Emblu should clear the use of its name with the University. Emblu's founders were referred to the appropriate University contacts to determine whether or not they needed to change their name. As it turns out, they didn't.

Had Emblu's founders not applied for help from the Entrepreneurship Clinic, Dobson said they would have done Internet research in an attempt to answer their legal questions, because hiring a law firm was financially out of reach. "I can't imagine how legally unprotected we may have been had we tried to figure this all out for ourselves with our limited legal knowledge," he said. "There are online services, including quick provisional patent application forms, but my opinion is that those in no way would come close to providing the superior legal protection the clinic provided to us."

Working with the student attorneys and their supervisor, Clinical Assistant Prof. Bryce Pilz, was a top-notch experience, Dobson said, and one he would recommend to other U-M student startups.

"The student attorneys were great. They were thorough in their work and prompt in responding, even at night and on weekends. They are all very likable and easy to get along with, which made it a very enjoyable experience and one we are appreciative to have had."

Liu, too, was appreciative of working with Emblu on its intellectual property issues, and said the opportunity enabled him to develop real-world legal skills outside the classroom. "I gained valuable insight into the legal and business considerations of start-up companies," he said. "I cannot imagine getting this kind of experience in the classroom, and would certainly recommend the Entrepreneurship Clinic to anyone interested in representing exciting and innovative clients."

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