Guest Post: Piers Blewett, Bridging the Gap: IP Education for All with SLW Academy

Editor’s note: this post is part of a series by the Diversity Pilots Initiative, which advances inclusive innovation through rigorous research. The first blog in the series is here and resources from the first conference of the initiative are available here. – Jason

By: Piers Blewett, Principal at Schwegman Lundberg & Woessner (SLW)

(This post is part of a series by the Diversity Pilots Initiative, which advances inclusive innovation through rigorous research. The first blog in the series is here and resources from the first conference of the initiative are available here.)

Hello! I’m Piers Blewett, a principal at Schwegman Lundberg & Woessner (SLW), and a patent attorney who started in a place once known as Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. My personal journey exposed me to the nuances of systemic change and the gap that can often exist when it comes to universal access to opportunities.

During the transitional period in Zimbabwe and later South Africa, I witnessed firsthand that systemic change does not always include broad availability of opportunities. Elements like knowledge transfer and mentorship can often seem out of reach, particularly for those at the beginning of these transitions.

This personal perspective was tragically echoed nearly three years ago. On May 25th, 2020, the world witnessed the heartbreaking tragedy of George Floyd’s murder at the intersection of 38th and Chicago Ave in Minneapolis, a location not far from our offices. The events etched George Floyd’s name into our collective memory, catalyzing a global outcry against systemic racism and underscoring the persistent racial disparities afflicting our communities.

This tragedy led my team and me to ponder deeply on the systemic disparities that exist in our own professional sphere in Intellectual Property (IP), and to listen carefully to those impacted by the effects of injustice. I recalled what one of my mentors taught me year ago: “if you endow people with skills and mentors, they will succeed.” With this background, we decided to act, and the SLW Academy was born.

The SLW Academy is a platform designed to democratize access to IP education and mentorship, especially for underrepresented communities. Our objective isn’t just to impart skills, but to genuinely care for our students, nurturing them in their pursuit of an IP career. We hope to empower students and help them become dynamic, proficient members of the intellectual property community by offering practical advice, useful real-world skills, and a certification to assist in resume building. The SLW Academy’s courses are free, online, and available to stream at the student’s convenience.

At the heart of the SLW Academy’s mission is the aspiration to engage students from various fields of interest and at different stages in their education.  Our focus extends to three key groups, each with distinct needs and potential:

  1. High School Students: Recognizing the importance of early exposure, we extend an invitation to high school students interested in law, science, or engineering to embark on a career path in Intellectual Property. By providing them with practical instruction and mentorship, the SLW Academy helps them explore their passions and develop a strong foundation.
  2. Undergraduate Students, Graduate Students, and Professional Engineers: The SLW Academy tailors programs for students pursuing or holding degrees in engineering, science, or mathematics. Students at this level are introduced to the intersection of law and science.
  3. Law Students and Graduates: The SLW Academy provides a bridge between legal theory and practice for both practicing lawyers and law students, empowering these individuals to enter the field of Intellectual Property law with confidence.

Historical barriers such as availability of IP-centric education or availability of mentors can be overcome at least in part through the SLW Academy. In acknowledging the individuality of each student’s journey, the SLW Academy facilitates mentorship opportunities between students interested in Intellectual Property and practitioners in the field by inviting students to engage with the material and the presenters. Guidance on a variety of careers is provided from presenters who work throughout the field.

We urge other law firms and engineering departments to join us in promoting inclusivity. The benefits of diversity are manifold, and it is crucial that we work together to ensure every voice contributes to our collective progress.

Watch Piers’ presentation on the SLW Academy during the Diversity in the Profession and Pipeline session at the fall 2022 Diversity Pilots Conference hosted at Santa Clara University (slides) or sign up for the SLW Academy webinar taking place on June 20, 2023.

Please visit the SLW Academy website to learn more about our mission. We encourage you to share the SLW Academy with others. Together, we can make a difference.

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