IPEC awarded first utility patent on smart glove to help stroke survivors

Inventor Dr. Lloyd Emokpae demonstrates a prototype of the smart glove. 

The Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic (IPEC) at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law has a history of assisting inventors with design patents, but recently, the clinic got approval on its first utility patent.  

The difference? A design patent protects the way an item looks; a utility patent protects how an invention works. Describing how a device works and how it differs from earlier, similar inventions ioften significantly more complicated than making the same claim for a design, so it is more challenging for clinic students to submit successful utility patent applications.  

“This is an exciting milestone for us,” says Prof. Patricia Campbell, IPEC’s director. “It represents an important expansion of what we can achieve for the inventors and entrepreneurs we serve at the clinic.” 

The achievement is also gratifying because the invention is a notable contribution in the field of rehabilitation for stroke survivors. The device is the brainchild of Dr. Lloyd Emokpae, one of the founders of LASARRUS (Limb Activation Stimulation and Robotic Rehabilitation Unencumbered Services), a Baltimore-based, clinic and research center. The flexible glove is equipped with special sensors that collect range of motion and force measurements for each joint in a human wrist and fingers. Additional technology in the glove fuses the raw sensor data to provide ongoing evaluation of the wearer’s progress. This allows for a unified way to quantify the effectiveness of rehabilitation exercises and helps transition rehabilitation from the clinic to the home environment. 

“The inventor is absolutely brilliant,” says clinical instructor Ed Yee ’97, who supervises students in the clinic preparing patent applications. “It’s thrilling to assist people like Lloyd...you have the sense that you’re helping someone realize their dreams.” 

Yee joined the clinic in 2018 and has been integral in growing its capacity, along with clinical instructor Julie Hopkins, who supervises IPEC’s trademark work. 

Emokpae connected with the clinic in 2019 through his brother and LASARRUS co-founder Edward Emokpae, a 2013 Maryland Carey Law graduate. “Overall, my experience with the clinic has been astounding, and I look forward to continuing working with the clinic in the future,” says Lloyd Emokpae. The utility patent is not only a first for IPEC, but also for LASARRUS. “Led by Prof. Yee, the students were able to deduce the technical contents of the invention,” he adds, and formulate a plan that was defendable and ultimately led to my company’s first issued patent.  

One of the students deeply involved with the effort was Andrew Curran ’21 who spent two semesters working in the clinic helping establish small businesses and protect their intellectual property. With experience under his belt, the Wisconsin native was assigned the utility patent application in his second semester at IPEC. “It was an amazing opportunity,” he says 

The application itself was submitted by a previous clinic student, but Curran had the chance to take on the part of the process that is sometimes more difficult and generally less predictable—the “amend and respond” portion. It is common practice for patent applications to go through multiple rounds of rejections. The patent lawyer’s job is to answer increasingly narrow arguments by the examiners in the patent office asserting that the invention is not unique. Each amended application includes new evidence that the invention is novel and not obvious, a demanding task requiring extensive research and analysis. 

Curran, who aspires to practice law in the biotech arena after completing a yearlong clerkship, appreciated seeing his work come to fruition. “This was a great way to finish out my time in the clinic,” he says, crediting his “fantastic instructor” Yee. 

IPEC has a busy schedule and provides legal services to a wide variety of entrepreneurs and startups. During academic year 2019-2020, the clinic assisted over 100 companies by filing 19 patent applications, 50 trademark applications, and five copyright registrations. 

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