Students expand cross-cultural learning through new Global Innovation Seminar

When the UW School of Law’s Center for Advanced Study and Research on Innovation Policy set about to create a one-of-a-kind cross-cultural learning experience, CASRIP Executive Director Jesse Kindra and CASRIP Director Zahr K. Said knew what they wanted: a program that would be relevant, rich in experiential learning and offer a global perspective on innovation and intellectual property. 

To ensure its relevancy, the seminar is centered on one emerging-technology topic that will vary from year to year. The host countries will change each year as well, rotating among three Asian nations: China, Japan and Korea.

In October 2017, the school’s inaugural Global Innovation Seminar was launched. Eight students, accompanied by four School of Law faculty and staff, traveled to Beijing to study the legal and business issues around autonomous vehicles. The selected topic was explored from multiple perspectives—through field trips, meetings and networking opportunities with judges, entrepreneurs, legal scholars, government officials, lawyers and university students. The weeklong seminar was hosted by Tsinghua University School of Law in Beijing.

Joining Kindra, Said and the students were Bill Covington, senior law lecturer, and Allison McCarty, Shidler Fellow for Innovation Law and Policy. UW’s Global Innovation Fund provided financial support.

“The seminar brings an interdisciplinary learning model to our students and allows them to see how other countries are handling innovation and technology,” Kindra said. “It’s one of just a handful of programs in the nation that expose students to a single topic area, enriched by a variety of opinions and thoughts. We meet with inventors, start-ups, regulators, the court system, law firms and technology transfer offices, to name a few, and this is all occurring in a different country and culture. It’s a very well-rounded experience.”

In China, the group toured Tsinghua University Science Park (TusPark), a business incubator that houses more than 400 sci-tech enterprises and R&D institutions; Microsoft China Center One; and UISEE, a start-up company founded by the former director of Intel Labs China. They also met with lawyers at Zhong Lun, a multinational law firm with a robust intellectual property law practice. Hosted dinners and visits to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, among other attractions, rounded out the week.

For law student Leron Vandsburger, the Global Innovation Seminar was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“To me, it was incredible that the week was hosted by Tsinghua University, which is like the MIT of China,” Vandsburger said. “Tsinghua has the top law school, the top engineering program and the best science research program in China. I liked the focus on technology and innovation in a country I did not know a lot about.”

Vandsburger appreciated not only the opportunity to meet with both scholars and practitioners but also the doors that were opened to the group. For him, one of the highlights was a visit to China’s first Intellectual Property Court, established in 2014.

“Our meeting with the judge at the IP Court was in a building that most non-Chinese would never even have access to,” he said.

When he returned to Seattle, Vandsburger found that his seminar participation was a resume-enhancer, helping raise his profile enough for a Seattle law firm to take notice.

“I got my summer job, clerking at a patent law firm, in part because of this seminar,” he said.

For student Connie Cheng, the trip’s impact also went far beyond her expectations.

“I was hoping to get a better idea of IP practice in China,” she said, “but I got so much more, including an introduction to the economic and cultural differences. These days, you need to know more than just law if you are going to work in the international arena. You need to know how different business models perform and how the culture works.”

The students enjoyed talking to their peers at Tsinghua and exploring what it is like to be a Chinese law student. But the person-to-person contact went well beyond the students. During the week, the faculty gave seminars on their areas of specialty, open to both Americans and Chinese.

The networking continued long after the group’s return. In November, Professor Wang Chenguang, former dean, Tsinghua University School of Law, visited Seattle and the UW campus. A few months later, a delegation of professors from Tsinghua’s IP Law Research Center presented a workshop. Both events extended the impact of the trip well beyond the small group who actually participated. 

Although the networking opportunities and follow-up workshops on campus are important, the focus of the seminar remains on student learning, noted Said. “Students learn in so many different ways and this is a unique learning experience,” she said. “The seminar gives them a chance to see how other countries are dealing with technology, innovation, regulatory challenges and other hot topics.”

This October, the Global Innovation Seminar will travel to Tokyo where 11 students —Vandsburger and Cheng among them — will explore blockchain and its applications.

 “We have many more students applying than we can accommodate,” Said added. “The students are excited about the program and the evaluations from the Beijing seminar were off-the-charts. We hope to find additional funding so we can offer this seminar at no cost to all students who apply and are accepted into the program.”

Last year’s participating students, like Cheng, applauded the program’s innovation and the diverse opportunities it provided.

“At the UW, we have a lot of foreign students who come here to study American law,” she said, “but flipping the situation happens less frequently. This program took us outside the law school environment where we got to interact with people in the real world. It is an amazing opportunity.”