All Virginia Tech undergraduate students may enroll in a unique and intrinsically interdisciplinary minor – the new minor in Science, Engineering and Law.  

This minor, introduced this fall, was developed under the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Grant and forms part of the Scieneering program. Though the name might suggest otherwise, the minor is open to all students, regardless of their major.

Begun in 2002 with one intellectual property law survey class, the College of Science’s Science, Technology and Law program has grown into a program with four undergraduate courses, one graduate course and, most recently, one minor. The program’s focus is not limited to intellectual property law but includes other legal, policy and ethical aspects at the intersection of science, technology, and law .

“While we invent the future here at Virginia Tech, we haven’t been as good at offering tools to help our students and researchers protect what they’re inventing,” explained Anna-Marion Bieri, coordinator of the Science, Technology and Law Program.

The addition of a minor is another step forward, but not the last, according to Bieri who says ideas are being explored for a graduate certificate in the program as well.

“It’s important for scientists to have some education in legal matters from patents that researchers develop and publishing that academics routinely take part in,” Bieri said.

“It’s a bit of a conflict, really,” she explained. “Publishing is important, but you don’t want to risk losing your ability to patent by saying too much before filing for a patent.”

The patent process involves three requirements: novelty, non-obviousness, and usefulness. When too much information of a specific nature is published – either in written or oral form – scientists can lose the ‘novelty’ requirement for their patent application.

“What we’re offering here is unique among undergraduate and graduate programs,” Bieri said. “There is no comparable program at other universities. Although similar programs may be found at law schools, the content is dramatically different. We tailor our topics specifically to the background of our students.”



Share this story