Intellectual Property Education In HBCUs

Intellectual property needs to be protected yet students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are often not taught the process of how to do so. Dr. Kevin C. Santiago, assistant professor of engineering at Norfolk State, plans to change that with the help of a $25,000 Michelson grant. The grant will enable Dr. Santiago to create curriculum that will teach students the ins and outs of protecting their intellectual property.

Intellectual property is any product that can be licensed and sold for distribution, according to Santiago. The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property (Michelson IP) is also partnering with several other HBCUs to offer intellectual property education to help future creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs. In addition to the cash award, Michelson IP is providing digital curricula and other resources.

Colleges such as Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have long been instructing students how to protect their intellectual property, Dr. Santiago said. However, that has not been the case at HBCUs. There have been multiple studies, including one by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that show overwhelming, systemic barriers facing underrepresented inventors. This has occurred despite the amount of intellectual property developed at HBCUs since 2010. “There’s been a knowledge gap. We have to ask ourselves what’s happened and how does this translate into dollars?” he said.

Intellectual property is fundamental to our economy, where an organization’s or a person’s most valuable assets are with their patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets, Santiago said. “If you don’t have the resources to protect your intellectual property, you are at a big disadvantage,” he said.

To launch the program, Dr. Santiago said there will be bi-weekly online meetings with nearby Hampton University and Clark Atlanta University, in Georgia, to review education modules and discuss the best practices for teaching. Plans are to infuse the intellectual property modules into several undergraduate courses to encourage student innovation and entrepreneurship.

Dr. Santiago said teaching about intellectual property fosters creativity in students. “It is my favorite thing, to see that light bulb go off in a student’s head,” he said. “I enjoy giving them the opportunity to learn and pursue a career,” he added.

A Norfolk State alumnus, he was the first to earn a B.S. and Ph.D. in Materials Science from NSU. He is also a first-generation college graduate. Besides Norfolk State, the inaugural program includes Bethune-Cookman University, Hampton University, Morehouse College, South Carolina State University, Tuskegee University and Xavier University of Louisiana.

“Our nation’s HBCUs are a wellspring of creativity and ingenuity,” said Gary K. Michelson, M.D., founder and co-chair of the Michelson 20MM Foundation. “The collaborative will further uplift these students in identifying and securing their valuable IP for the benefit of generations to come,” he added.