The Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program Immerses Students in IP

by Rachael Perrotta

The Intellectual Property Program at Vanderbilt Law School encompasses introductory and advanced IP law courses, along with co-curricular offerings.

VIPP Director Daniel Gervais shares how students can immerse themselves in IP law at Vanderbilt and how Nashville provides the perfect backdrop to do so.

Curricular and co-curricular offerings

Vanderbilt Law students can independently focus their coursework on areas important to them. To that end, Gervais notes that VIPP tailors its course offerings based on student interests. These courses range in topics from technology, copyright, patents and trademarks, and AI to entertainment and sports, art and design, music, and more.

“Intellectual property is a big field…which means that it will draw students who are interested in a number of potential jobs, very different jobs,” he said. “We’ve got all these students who come to the program with very different interests, and we try to accommodate all of them.”

He also notes that the variety of student backgrounds and interests in the classroom contribute to intricate class discussions and learning, particularly in some of the more general IP courses. “We’ll have all of these students together in the same room, but, obviously, their perspectives will be different,” Gervais said.

Students can also engage in a variety of co-curricular IP opportunities at Vanderbilt. The student-run Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law, publishes on a quarterly basis. The Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Association — which focuses on patent, copyright, and trademark law, and the Entertainment & Sports Law Society frequently invite guest speakers to discuss current events in their respective fields of law. Additionally, students can also take the Intellectual Property & the Arts Clinic and Patent Litigation Practicum, which afford students real-world experience in IP litigation. Students with a science background can take the Patent Bar exam while in law school, ready to hit the ground running in patent law right after graduation.

Vanderbilt Law’s location in the heart of Nashville provides an ideal setting for students to study IP law. In addition to hosting three major league and one minor league sports teams, Music City is at the center of music entertainment, home to record labels, TV networks, instrument manufacturers, and BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC — three leading performance rights organizations. These local institutions have aided Vanderbilt Law in becoming a leader in sports and entertainment law.

Nashville’s growth as a major tech hub, particularly in the South, also provides students with ample opportunities to get involved in IP technology law.

Intellectual Property Law Programming at Vanderbilt

Gervais notes that a primary goal of VIPP is to “animate” the law school via insightful and consistent programming. Sarah Fowler, JD‘08, Senior Deputy General Counsel of the Screen Actors Guild, visited campus during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Other guests, many of whom are alumni of Vanderbilt Law, have included the General Counsels of the Nashville Predators, fashion companies, and musical artists.

“The beauty of [these events] is they can connect with these guests. And many, many of our students earn internships that lead to jobs because of those talks,” Gervais said.

In addition to speaker events, the program hosts conferences on a variety of IP topics. This spring, Vanderbilt Law will host two major IP conferences focused on music — one in February, which will be largely student-organized, and one in April, which will be music-business-oriented. In the past, VIPP has hosted IP law conferences on sports, pharmaceuticals, and more. Gervais said the conference topics vary based on hot topics in IP law at the time.

“We will bring law professors from all over the world who will come and share their experiences and papers,” Gervais said. “In the spring, the general counsel and CEOs of a few music labels are coming to town. We’re timing it just before the CMA Awards so that people are in town already.”

Vanderbilt Law students are encouraged to attend all conferences hosted by the university, which are free admission.

“They can mingle and meet these people,” Gervais said. “It has led to people reorienting their careers.”

Career opportunities in Intellectual Property Law

Gervais shared that the programming offered by VIPP exposes students to new career opportunities that they previously did not consider.

“My experience is that 80 to 90% of students change their mind about their career while they’re in law school,” Gervais said.

While he said many students enter Big Law firms from VIPP, other students work for the government — such as in the U.S. Copyright Office, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, and the State Department. VIPP also prepares students to work at NGOs and international institutions, such as Creative Commons and the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

“It’s very, very varied. And it reflects the fact that IP is so varied,” Gervais said. “IP is really a tool that is used by so many industries in so many different ways. It opens the door to a ton of jobs of different kinds.”