Alumna Sant Teams Up with Deal to Head IP/NO Clinic

As the new co-director of the Intellectual Property & Nonprofit Organizations (IP/NO) Clinic,Geetha Rao Sant, JD ’89, is looking forward to working with clinic students, faculty, and staff on its dual mission of serving both nonprofit and intellectual property clients. 

“I am excited for this opportunity to combine my practical legal experience, with my passion for nonprofit work, and with my love of teaching,” says Sant, who had more than 20 years of experience in private practice handling mostly corporate work (transactional, securities, and governance) before focusing on nonprofit management and governance in recent years. “If I could have written a job description of what I wanted to do, this position in the IP/NO Clinic would be it.” 

Sant, who also is serving as a lecturer of law, succeeds Peter Ruger, JD ’69, who recently retired from the university.  

In addition to co-directing the clinic, Ruger taught Nonprofit Organizations, and for 18 years he served as Washington University’s general counsel. In 2009, he was installed as an honorary initiate of the Order of the Coif at the law school’s Academic Excellence Reception. 

“I had the pleasure of working with Peter the past several years, and I got to see firsthand the positive impact he had on both our clients and the clinic students,” says David Deal, lecturer in law, co-director of the IP/NO Clinic, and director of the Patent Law Field Placement. “He is a worthy role model for any young or aspiring lawyer not only on how to handle the legal issues but also on how to treat people.” 

Deal, who has an extensive background in patent law, and Sant are now looking forward to combining their expertise to continue the clinic’s innovative work. On the nonprofit side, the IP/NO Clinic represents various types of nonprofit organizations including educational, religious and social service entities. Clinic student attorneys provide services to assist clients with incorporation, filing for tax exempt status, establishing corporate and financial protocols, drafting and reviewing contracts, providing board training, and helping organizations adopt best practices, as well as a multitude of other legal services. 

Recent matters include incorporating a church, reviewing confidentiality protocol for a research-based organization, helping develop volunteer management policies for an elementary school, and providing governance training to a nonprofit trade association. 

In the intellectual property sector, the clinic works with nonprofits and start-up entrepreneurs from within both the university community and the St. Louis area to identify, develop, and implement best practices to protect their intangible assets. Clinic student attorneys research proposed inventions; determine the scope of patent protection available; review trademarks for potential infringement with existing trademarks; help develop, register, and protect new trademarks; acquire and register copyrights from original authors; and help clients with various other related issues. 

Additionally, the clinic provides educational sessions for clients on topics related to the effective use of patents, copyrights, and trademarks in securing a new business idea and to the establishment of protocols in maintaining, managing, and protecting their intellectual property. Recent matters include acquiring a license for the music used in a documentary, assigning the copyright in a test to the certifying organization using the test, guiding a client through a rebranding effort to avoid claims of trademark infringement, and advising a client with a promising new technology of the meaningful patent protection that was available.  

Sant is a firm believer in the value of the direct professional practice experience the clinic brings to law students. 

“Practicing in a law firm is a lot more than knowing the law; you also have to know how to apply that knowledge often in a situation with a multitude of potentially conflicting issues,” Sant says. “My educational goal is to provide a realistic, law firm practice experience for our students and equip them with the practical skills and the confidence they need so they can be ‘practice ready’ when they graduate.” 

Another of Sant’s goals is helping new lawyers succeed in the rapidly evolving legal environment. 

“Lawyers today have to be able to manage the business of practice in addition to the practice of law itself,” she says. “Our graduates will need to hit the ground running in terms of client development and client management. They will need to know how to confidently bring the work in, figure out what’s best for the client, and get high quality work product out, all while balancing time constraints, office politics, and a personal life. Those skills are what a clinic like the IN/PO Clinic offers.” 

Or to put it more directly, Sant says, “One of my dad’s favorite sayings is that ‘You can’t learn golf by reading about it—you gotta get out there and take a couple of swings.’ In this clinic, our students will be taking a lot of swings daily.” 

By Timothy J. Fox