News

Implications of Van Buren v. United States and the Reach of the CFAA

By Sehseh Sanan

The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments on the reach of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The case, Van Buren v. United States considers the CFAA’s definition of “exceeding authorized access.” It is the first time the Supreme Court has reviewed the CFAA, which was enacted in 1986 to address hacking but which has been amended a number of times since.

The Court’s decision may have implications for computer use policies in a variety of business situations involving employee and licensee access to computers and databases.

The CFAA aims to penalize anyone who intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or who exceeds authorized access and obtains information stored on that computer.

18 U.S. Code § 1030(a) states:

(a) Whoever—

(2) Intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains—

(A) information contained in a financial record of a financial institution, or of a card issuer as defined in section 1602(n) [1] of title 15, or contained in a file of a consumer reporting agency on a consumer, as such terms are defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.);

(B) information from any department or agency of the United States; or

(C) information from any protected computer;

(6) the term “exceeds authorized access” means to access a computer with authorization and to use such access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the access-er is not entitled so to obtain or alter…

With the text of the statute in mind, Van Buren addresses the CFAA by asking whether a person who is authorized to access information on a computer for certain purposes violates Section 1030(a)(2) of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act if he/she accesses the same information for an improper purpose.

Nathan Van Buren was a police officer in Georgia who utilized a police database to search license plates in exchange for money, and not in the course of his employment.

Van Buren argued the federal CFAA statute is meant to prevent computer hacking and unauthorized use of electronic systems, and it applies only if the defendant obtains information that he was under no circumstances entitled to obtain. Under Van Buren’s argument, the CFAA was not intended to and should not penalize defendants under federal criminal law when they are authorized to access a computer or database but use it in an unauthorized way.

The government’s argument hinges on the inclusion of “so” in the clause “is not entitled so to obtain or alter” in the definition of “exceeds authorized access.” If the Court accepts the government’s argument, then investigations, prosecutions, and sanctions under the CFAA will broaden significantly.

What does this case mean for entrepreneurs? Businesses that depend on employee and licensee access to computer processes and databases may need to carefully review computer access policies and provide adequate guidance to employees and licensees.

Examples of potential areas of prosecution include:

  • Using a database of customer information to provide customer information to someone outside the company.
  • Accessing a licensed database and using the information for other unauthorized purposes.
  • Using a work computer to download personal programs.
  • An employee modifying system files that are not in the scope of their job.
  • Making files public that are supposed to be private.
  • An employee utilizing a password that does not belong to them.
  • An employee utilizing their own password to access information that is prohibited by computer use policies, confidentiality agreements, and employment contracts.
  • An employee using a work computer to download trade secrets in order to compete against their employer.

However the Court decides the decision is likely to influence computer-based businesses, including users such cybersecurity experts, journalists, and researchers who may have difficulty accessing information.

If the Court rules in favor of the government’s prosecution under CFAA, the scope of what is considered a computer crime will broaden, and the control exerted over users will increase. On the other hand, if the Court does not support the application of CFAA to unauthorized uses of information, there are concerns that privacy rights will decrease.

Considerations For Choosing A Business Entity

By Sohela Suri

Once founders decide to move forward with commercializing a new technology, they will need to choose the business entity they will use to conduct business. Considerations for deciding which business type is best suited to the new entity’s needs and goals include: the number of owners, protection from personal liability, taxation, management structure, and investor considerations. Retaining a legal or tax advisor to review the specific circumstances and make recommendations before making the decision is highly recommended.

There are many resources providing information helpful to understanding the different  business entities. For example, the IRS provides a webpage on corporate structures, and the Small Business Administration hosts a business structure web page. NYS Secretary of State Division of Corporations, State Records, and UCC maintains a website with filing information, and a database to search corporations and business entities in NYS.

The laws of each state govern the creation of business entities. Federal securities laws also apply when securities are issued and sold. This article provides information on New York State business entities. The choice of state to file in is another issue a legal advisor can help decide.

Founders Agreements – pre-business entity formation

While a technology is vetted for its commercial prospects, the focus is often not on the type of business entity to be formed. This makes sense because not all technology is suited for commercialization, and not all founders are destined to work together. However, founders are well advised to take steps to protect the ownership of intellectual property and business assets in the event a business entity is formed. The Founder’s Agreement should define the Founder’s respective co-ownership rights in the intellectual property and other business assets.

Business assets include proprietary technical information, intellectual property, market research/customer information, identification of published materials characterizing markets that are relevant to the product or service concept, design and specifications necessary to transform the product concept into a functional product, the creation of a business plan, and agreement on founders’ roles and responsibilities. A founders agreement is made between the founders in their capacities as individuals before a business entity is formed, and preserve ownership of IP and other business assets that are created before a business entity is formed.

The founders actively involved in evaluating the feasibility of the business should address the founders’ co-ownership rights in the business assets regardless of whether the Founders ultimately determine that the business contemplated is feasible and form a business entity.

As long as founders can enter an agreement that all business assets developed will be assigned to whatever business entity is ultimately decided upon, founders agreements can provide time to make a careful business entity decision. With more time comes more information about whether and how the founders will move forward with a business.

Advantages of Business Entities

When a business entity adheres to the organizational structure provided by law the  limited partners, shareholders, and/or members’ receive protection against personal liability for business debts. This means the amount of money that limited partners, shareholders, and/or members can lose if anything that goes wrong with the business is limited to what they have invested in the business entity. Where a sole proprietor or a general partner is personally responsible for judgments against it, the assets that are available to an injured party from a limited partner, LLC member, or corporate shareholder is limited to the investment made into the limited partnership, LLC, or corporation.

In addition to limiting liability, business entities provide a legally recognized structure for a number of owners or investors to work together with a prescribed understanding about what the law requires with regard to formation, taxation, management, ownership, and exit strategy.

Corporations

Corporations are legal entities separate and distinct from the individual shareholders who own, manage, and operate the corporation’s business. A corporation works well when there are or are expected to be a number of owners, and the owners intend to seek investment.

A Corporation’s liability for the torts, contracts, and judgements of the directors, officers, and other employees of the corporation are limited to the corporation and do not extend to the individual shareholders beyond their investment. (e.g., the number of shares purchased). An exception to the veil of protection afforded by the corporate entity is if shareholders do not follow corporate formalities or intentionally undercapitalize a corporation. Shareholders are then said to have “pierced the corporate veil” such that they may be held liable as individuals.

Corporations are governed on a state-by-state basis, and so are created, managed, and dissolved according to the laws of the State with which it filed. In NYS a corporation is formed by filing Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State. A board of directors manages a corporation, which is composed of individuals elected by the shareholders. The board delegates daily responsibilities to others.

With respect to taxation, standard “C” corporation profits are taxed both as part of the corporation’s income tax, and when the shareholders are taxed following a distribution of profits. Corporations can opt to elect to be subject to a “flow-through” tax scheme, whereby the separate legal entity of the corporation is not taxed. These are referenced as Subchapter S corporations based on the federal internal revenue code authorizing them. The caveat is that the corporation must meet certain requirements: 100 or fewer shareholders, all shareholders must be natural persons, and there can only be one class of stock. S corps are not recommended if the corporation is seeking venture capital because it limits stock to just one class.

Exit strategies for shareholders in corporations are relatively uncomplicated because owners can simply sell their shares. However, the cost to dissolve a corporation is relatively high compared to other business entities.

General Partnerships

There are two types of partnerships: general and limited. In a general partnership, the two or more partners – either individuals or business entities – agree to establish and run a business in accordance with a partnership agreement. General partnerships, unlike corporations and LLCs, do not need to be registered with the state or any administrative body. (A limited partnership does need to register.) Although partnerships operate under a partnership agreement between the partners, each partner is responsible for all of the liabilities of the partnership.

General partnerships have flow through taxation so that the tax liability flows through the entity to the partners. The partners claim gains, losses, credits, deductions, etc. on their personal tax returns with the federal government. In New York, the partnership’s income passes to the partners who pay taxes on their individual or franchise tax returns. There are certain instances in New York where partnerships are required to file a separate return for the partnership itself, but that process is not the norm.

General partnerships are fully governed by the underlying partnership agreement. They often involve joint management and ownership, unless some special provisions are put into the operating agreement splitting up responsibilities and stakes in assets of the partnership. Under this structure no one person is the sole owner, since partnerships require at least two people or entities. This entity has the greatest personal liability and least flexibility in structure of the business. Exiting a general partnership can be expensive although less expensive than dissolving a corporation.

General partnerships are easily established by two or more individuals, who co-own the unincorporated business. The partners share in the profits and responsibilities of managing the business, and equally share the losses and liabilities. When one partner dies, goes bankrupt, or withdraws from the partnership, the result is usually one partner buying out the other.

Limited  Partnerships

A limited partnership is formally created when at least one general partner and at least one limited partner file a certificate with the Secretary of State. Authorization for a limited partnership is found in § 91of the NYS Partnership Law. The contributions of a limited partner may be cash or other property, but not services. General and Limited partners are treated differently, general partners have unlimited personal liability for all obligations of the business, and limited partners have limited liability, and do not control the business. When a general partner dies, goes bankrupt, or withdraws, the limited partnership is dissolved. By contrast, when a limited partner dies, goes bankrupt, or withdraws, the partnership is not affected.

Limited Liability Companies

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is an unincorporated business of one or more people who have limited liability for the contractual obligations and liabilities of the business. The owners are referenced as members. Members can be individuals and/or other legal entities such as a corporation or partnership. Limited Liability Companies are governed by the NYS Limited Liability Company Law and combines the limited liability protection of a corporation with the flexibility of a partnership.  Its’ business structure can utilize pass-through taxation. The LLC is a frequent option for startup companies.

The formation of an LLC in New York State requires filing Articles of Organization and a Certificate of Publication of the names of the partners with the Secretary of State. An Operating Agreement, which is an internal document, establishes the rights, powers, duties, liabilities, and obligations of the members between themselves and with respect to the LLC.

The operating agreement specifies what each member is obligated to perform for example, one partner may complete manufacturing, another marketing, and a third technology development, and IP prosecution and ownership.

In terms of taxation, the IRS treats LLC’s as either a partnership or corporation. The LLC format is favored on an operating level because it limits liability but allows for the benefits of general partnerships. LLCs have relatively simple management and ownership arrangements compared with corporations. LLCs have underlying operating agreements which dictate the terms of the LLC’s operations and which defines the relationships between the members. Dissolving an LLC is not complicated, but does require a filing. It is not as expensive as dissolving a corporation. The members can choose the date on which the LLC ceases to exist and can pre-set a date in their operating agreement on which the LLCs cease.

 

Navigating Intellectual Property Legal Issues—And Life

Brian J. Gerling L’99 Reflects on Learning IP Law Under Ted Hagelin, And Why He Returned to Teach at His Alma Mater

By Meredith Wallen

Every semester, College of Law students in the Innovation Law Center (ILC) benefit from the extensive expertise and broad experience of practitioners who supervise student research projects for real-world clients.

Often those practitioners are drawn from the ranks of alumni who have graduated from the College’s preeminent technology commercialization and intellectual property (IP) law program. One such adjunct professor is Brian Gerling L’99, Senior Counsel for Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC (BSK).

“I found it fascinating”

At BSK, Gerling’s practice focuses on intellectual property, data privacy, cybersecurity, and economic development in the beverage, environmental, and plastics industries. He also is engaged with the autonomous systems industry, serving as legal advisor to local unmanned aerial vehicle businesses.

As an adjunct professor, Gerling oversees one of ILC’s experiential learning practicums, working with students, as well as ILC clients, to research the technical, legal, and business aspects involved in bringing new technologies to market.

When asked when he first became interested in technology, Gerling says, “Even as a kid, I was curious how or why things worked. Whether it was electricity or the human body, I found it fascinating, and that’s what led me down the path to a degree in biology.”

During that process, Gerling studied medical and laboratory processes and equipment, which are often the result of innovative technological advancements. While studying for his undergraduate degree, he “discovered that I could marry my passion for biotechnology and the law, and that’s what brought me to Syracuse to focus on IP law.”

“A true gentleman”

Gerling’s reason for giving back to his alma mater—and specifically the Innovation Law Center—primarily came from wanting to settle back in Central New York, after living away from the area after graduation. In addition to his local roots, Gerling’s experience learning technology law under the late Professor Ted Hagelin makes Gerling an important asset for any student wanting a career path in this growing area of law.

While at the College of Law, Gerling says that he got to know Professor Hagelin through classes and by editing the Syracuse Journal of Science and Technology Law, and he marveled at not only Hagelin’s brilliant mind but also his character (“a true gentleman,” says Gerling).

“Professor Hagelin started the Technology Law Commercialization Program, the precursor to ILC, and he just left an indelible impression on me,” says Gerling. “I learned from him about navigating through legal issues, and even more about life. I have used the principles I learned while at the College of Law throughout my career.”

After a year or so back in Central New York, Gerling says he met ILC Director M. Jack Rudnick through local business circles. “After meeting Jack a couple of times, I thought to myself he was very much like Ted, a sharp legal mind and just a true gentleman,” says Gerling. “I then learned that he was running Professor Hagelin’s program. I discussed the ILC with Jack and ways that I could get involved, and here we are.”

“Really neat technologies”

When asked about his favorite part of joining the ILC team, Gerling says that his colleagues at the ILC are all accomplished, and it is just a joy to work with them. But he says his favorite part hands-down is working with the students. “Their intelligence and eagerness to learn is kinetic. It is just a different vibe and energy from working with—or against—other attorneys,” observes Gerling. “I look forward to class each week, and I enjoy and appreciate their perspectives on life and society. That is inspirational because it challenges me to be a more rounded educator and person.”

Gerling says the companies that he and his students have worked on recently include technologies ranging from protecting energy grids, to biosensor masks, to unmanned aerial systems operations, “so the students have been exposed to a wide spectrum of really neat technologies.”

As far as adjustments due to COVID-19, Gerling’s team has had to navigate the challenges associated with a hybrid learning environment, but this format worked well in Gerling’s view. That success in this trying time, he attests, is a testament to not only to College and University leadership but also to the students.

Gerling’s advice to law students interested in innovation law is to give Law 815—the Innovation Law Practicum—a try. Primarily an applied learning course, the six-credit practicum is offered consecutively in the fall and spring. Interested students can learn more about the course at this webpage.

Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Ushered in the Drone Age?

By Viviana Bro

COVID-19 has impacted every area of our lives. COVID-19 may have accelerated the incorporation of unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones, into our daily lives. Examples include law enforcement activities, assisting in search and rescue operations, inspecting pipelines and infrastructure, photographing real estate, surveying land, disaster assistance, news gathering, and recreational.

Even though the benefits of drone integration seem palpable and extensive, concerns that drone technology may impact and erode privacy and property right have yet to be resolved in the United States. Drones are authorized via remote control by a pilot on the ground and are generally restricted from operating beyond the pilot’s line of sight, over people, above 400 feet, and within certain distances of an airport.

In “Geospatial World,” Mukesh Sharma reports that drone use during the pandemic has been widespread in parts of China and Europe where drones fitted with loudspeakers broadcast coronavirus-related messages and information. The Chinese government deployed drones with infrared cameras to read people’s temperature as they stood on apartment balconies. Some governments deployed drones to enforce COVID-19 restrictions such as forbidden social gatherings that fueled infection dissemination. In the United States and abroad, drones have been used to deliver medical supplies, household goods, and food.

Drone involvement in containing the virus through benign utilitarian missions has contributed to a positive image. Arguably, pre-pandemic drone apprehension is dissipating as drone pervasiveness in the public’s consciousness has increased during lock-downs.

However, many worry that drone proliferation is starting to erode some historical rights. For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has stated that 49 U.S.C grants them the right to create comprehensive regulations for “the use of the navigable airspace … to ensure the safety of aircraft and the efficient use of [that] airspace.” (Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Current Jurisdictional, Property, and Privacy Legal Issues Regarding the Commercial and Recreational Use of Drones, GAO U.S. Government Accountability Office, Sept. 2020). In the GAO report, the Department of Transportation has clarified that the term “navigable airspace” “… includes zero feet (‘the blades of grass’) as the minimum altitude of flight for UAS.”

This understanding clashes with property rights in airspace. Under ancient common law doctrine, property rights in airspace extended to the periphery of the universe (GAO Report). In the 1946 landmark United States v. Causby decision, the U.S. Supreme Court analyzed the concept of ownership of airspace above private property. The Court concluded that landowners have “exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the enveloping atmosphere,” and that they own “at least as much of the space above the ground as they can occupy or use in connection with the land.”

Under the authority to control the navigable airspace, the FAA has granted drones freedom of operation from the ground and up to 400 feet. This authorization, some claim, is incongruent with landowners’ property rights in airspace. To initiate a discussion and bring some uniformity about “the states’ ability to take action against operators of drones who violate existing trespass, privacy and negligence laws,” the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) took the lead in drafting the “Uniform Tort Law Relating to Drones Act” (GAO Report).

According to Brian Wynne and Gary Shapiro in  New Approach to State Drone Laws Balances Privacy and Innovation article, stakeholders flatly rejected the first 2018 version because it presented a “one-sided, unworkable, 200-foot ‘line in the sky’ approach.” The 2019 version has not fared much better. While proponents of this Act perceive it as a compromise between the rights of landowners’ property rights and the drone industry, vociferous critics see is a “radical departure” from current property rights (GAO Report).

While the debate rages in the U.S., other nations, whose views on privacy and property rights differ radically from ours, are moving forward with the development and utilization of drone technology. As a result, these countries are amassing and mining vast amounts of data from their citizens. Some claim that the exploitation of these data allows these countries to make extraordinary scientific leaps, which the United States cannot realize under current notions of privacy and property rights (In the Age of AI, Frontline film, Dec. 2019).

As the pandemic slowly retreats and we emerge from a penumbra of uncertainty, some anticipate a more benign attitude toward drone technology will emerge. A new outlook could enable proponents and opponents to arrive at legislation that makes sense in an increasingly technological world. Three companies (Amazon, UPS, and Wing from Google) have obtained special permissions to deliver beyond visual line of sight. Amazon was granted two patents covering a technology to provide surveillance services via drones, with a “virtual fence” around the property being surveilled.

Balancing privacy and property rights with the social and economic benefits that drones bring is a difficult task. But it must be done because drones are here to stay, whether we like them or not.

 

 

 

With Help from the Innovation Law Center, Off-Roaders Blue-Sky an Environmentally Friendly ATV

By Julia Scaglione ’20

Environmental sustainability is a hot topic. From waste reduction to minimizing carbon footprints, keeping the planet clean and green is a shared responsibility requiring deep innovation in every sector of the economy, and especially transportation. One company taking steps to address sustainability in transportation’s $3.9 billion all-terrain vehicle (ATV) market comes from New York State’s own Grand Island, between Buffalo and Niagara Falls: DVIN Industries.

The DVIN founders are no strangers to alternative vehicles. Specializing in all things land and water, the company is innovating an amphibious, electric ATV that can traverse any surface. Michael McManaman and Alexander Dzadur have a background in ATVing and sailing, respectively, as well as in owning businesses, tinkering, and living and playing on Grand Island. This combination brought the two together over a common issue.

“Every islander is aware that only a few bridges connect us to the mainland,” explain the McManaman and Dzadur, noting the significance of amphibious vehicles to island residents. “One day we thought of electrifying the ATV market and making a step forward with an an amphibious, electric all-terrain vehicle. Whiteboards and scrap paper tell the rest of the story.”

After a process of envisioning, sketching, and problem-solving, DVIN was born and with it an unprecedented amphibious vehicle that is designed with the enjoyment of driving in mind, as well as environmental conscientiousness. As it approaches the market, McManaman and Dzadur say there’s nothing quite like it out there—and that’s exactly its point.

“A change in the way we transport ourselves is coming,” say McManaman and Dzadur. “It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.” And DVIN working to put that “when” on the calendar.

The company operates not only to innovate the ATV market, but to minimize harm to the environment. Its founders recognize that the current pollution from ATVs and other amphibious vehicles is not being addressed, and that drives the them on their DVIN journey. “What are we leaving for our children? For the next generation?” McManaman and Dzadur ask, hoping that their vehicles will be pathfinders toward a healthier planet.

Currently, McManaman and Dzadur are the sole employees of DVIN—the two operate and run the company themselves, learning what they need to and gaining new skills along the way. The company, which formed a little over a year ago, is currently focused on legal matters, design refinements, scoping metal suppliers, and otherwise building the company.

In spring 2020, DVIN had the opportunity to work with the Syracuse Universyt College of Law’s Innovation Law Center (ILC)—and the New York State Science and Technology Law Center, which is housed in ILC—to provide research on patents and products, as well as Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, and Department of Motor Vehicles regulations relevant to the vehicle.

“We are absolutely in awe of the quality of work done by students and faculty at the Innovation Law Center,” say McManaman and Dzadur. “The scope and depth of its research gave us a new business perspective and a better understanding of patents.”

When asked about the students’ work, McManaman and Dzadur laugh. “Students? They might be students, but as competent as fully fledged professionals! The transparency of the process was wonderful. We are grateful for all their hard work and patience.”

The future looks bright for DVIN. The product has virtually no competition, as no one else is producing an electric, solar-powered, amphibious all-terrain vehicle like theirs. Yet they will continue to dial in on product innovation, brand recognition, quality, and manufacturing costs because the founders know at some point their market segment will attract competition.

With the ILC’s findings under their belt, McManaman and Dzadur plan on finalizing the technical design, prototyping, and filing utility patents.

At the end of the day, McManaman and Dzadur say their work to minimize amphibious ATV damage to the planet is exactly the kind of innovation the world needs. “Don’t be afraid of disruption—be one,” they say, and with the DVIN vehicle on the horizon, disrupt is exactly what they will do.

Innovation Law Center Zooms Forward with Virtual Presentations

By: Julia Scaglione

The Innovation Law Center (ILC) students and professors have wrapped up a semester’s work on a dozen research projects for a variety of clients. The impact of COVID-19 left the ILC facing uncharted territory, as the research had to be presented in a virtual environment. Nevertheless, the students, professors and clients were able to came together virtually to finish the semester strong.

Adapting to new standards, the clients received their final presentations via video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Collaborate. While it was non-traditional, the students stayed positive throughout the process. “Although it was somewhat sudden to shift from preparing for in-person presentations to virtual presentations, the experience was a good one,” says student Sohela Suri. “In practice, we will likely be utilizing technology to communicate with colleagues and clients regularly, so it is very unique to have been able to experience and conduct a presentation via Zoom with a real client.”

In addition to the benefit of experience, some students preferred the virtual presentation format. “Presenting in this format is better for helping show clients specific references online quickly and easily,” says Rickson Galvez.
The virtual format also provided clients the opportunity to extend the presentations to additional members of their teams. “COVID-19 has unexpectedly increased the audience size for our presentations. Instead of presenting to one or two people, my group has been able to include up to six people from the client’s team that were interested in our research,” states Senior Research Associate (SRA) Alison Burrows.

Transitioning to online presentations had its challenges, of course. Student Sehseh Sanan says that she had to be ultra-aware of her surroundings, while Dwij Patel reflects on the lack of physical presence. “One challenge that was presented to me was engaging with the audience. I know that I am still able to see the clients and my peers in Zoom, but aside from facial expressions, there is almost no way to see other forms of body language to show how the audience is engaging with me.”

While presenting remotely was an adjustment, the presentations were strong and seamless. “To no surprise, our student research associates Kaitlyn Crobar, Viviana Bro, and Dwij Patel rose to the occasion without issue in providing high-quality presentations to this semester’s clients. Despite not being able to meet in person, the students maintained a collaborative team effort, and they impressed our team leaders with how well they transitioned, as well as our clients who were excited to hear that the work on their projects would not be stopped during the pandemic,” states SRA Kristian Stefanides.

Overall, the virtual presentations benefited all parties and were new, beneficial experiences for the ILC. “Our clients sent us a nice thank you email right after our presentation, and they seemed to enjoy it,” says Sohela Suri.
Moving forward, there are a lot of unknowns as the pandemic and lockdown procedures continue. Nonetheless, the ILC is enthusiastic about operating in this new normal. “When we started working online, I was a little apprehensive,” says professor Dominick Danna. “But once I got my technical bugs worked out, the classes went very smoothly. Seeing all the faces on the screen at one time and everyone speaking in-turn made the classes very effective.”

“Cool” Relief for Migraine Sufferers: Innovation Law Center Helps Bring Wearable Tech to Market

By Julia Scaglione

Imagine having a migraine and reaching for an ice pack for relief. Sure, the cooling numbs the pain for a while—but 20 minutes later the relief ends as the ice pack reaches room temperature. But now the tedious process of returning the pack to the freezer and waiting for it to re-freeze—while the pain returns—has an alternative solution: Prolivio. It’s an ice pack whose temperature can be controlled and customized to meet exact needs.

Prolivio is a migraine-relief cooling headband designed to reduce the longevity and severity of headaches. A “digital icepack” of sorts, the simple device provides a customizable level of cooling per customer preference through its adjustable temperature and time settings. Not only does Prolivio provide better relief, it enables cooling to happen on-the-go.

Plus, the device is connected to an app that collects data, allowing its users to better understand how often they experience migraines and the effect of contributing influences. Thus, by collecting data on the user’s migraines, Prolivio works to not only provide immediate relief through its cooling tech, it aids the management of migraines in the long run.

The company was founded by Benjamin Zombek and Robert Juncosa in 2019 and now operates with a small team preparing for commercial launch. Zombek, the Industrial Designer of the team, is no stranger to migraines, so the issue hits close to home for him. “As a kid, my mother suffered horrible migraines,” he explains. “She experienced awful side effects and was often non-functioning due to heavy medication.” The personal impact of migraines does not stop there: Zombek’s wife and daughter experience them as well.

The fact that three significant people in Zombek’s life all experience migraines is not as unusual as it may seem. The condition is a lot more prevalent than meets the eye. The Migraine Research Foundation reports that nearly 1 in 4 US households include someone with migraine and that 12% of the population—including children—suffers from migraine. According to Zombek, one billion people suffer from migraines worldwide.

Not only does this chronic condition create huge out-of-pocket medical costs for sufferers but it also results in a loss of income due to time lost at work. According to industry statistics provided by Zombek, the annual economic loss resulting from time lost at work due to migraines in the United States alone is $31 billion, and 157 million people miss work hours each year. So prevalent is the condition that a “migraine industry” has developed, with sufferers spending $41 billion to treat their range of symptoms—not just headache, but nausea, light sensitivity, and more. Prolivio plans to enter this industry with a product that can provide immediate relief as sufferers continue to wait for a cure.

Estimated to be 14 to 16 months from its product launch, the Prolivio team is working to build beta units of its product, conduct market research through customer discovery, pitch in business plan competitions, and build relationships with strategic partners.

In addition to their preparatory work at the Prolivio headquarters, Zombek and the team have been working with the Syracuse University College of Law’s Innovation Law Center (ILC) to understand the product’s intellectual property landscape, the application of various regulations, and how to optimize the product’s path to market.

Specifically, Zombek and the ILC students are compiling research to help solidify the parameters of the Prolivio patent protection strategy, as well as what obstacles there may be to market entry and whether the company can anticipate any freedom to operate issues. “So far, the students have given us reassurance that there are no red flags and that the patent looks very strong,” Zombek reports. “Those are two huge wins in taking the product to market, so working with the ILC has been great.”

Looking forward, Zombek hopes to launch Prolivio in mid-2021. The company will spend the upcoming months going through the final rounds of engineering and prototyping to build and scale the product, in addition to securing funding and partners to launch.

Outside of Prolivio, Zombek hopes to develop further health and wellness products for a variety of conditions through his company, BZD Ventures. The inventor says he aims to launch more enabling technology for the disabled community, as well as other therapeutic technologies. At the end of the day, Zombek’s goal with Prolivio and all of his inventions is simple: “I want to help people in pain. And overall, simple tech makes a difference.”

With the Innovation Law Center’s Help, a SUNY-ESF Professor “Ticks Away” at a Growing Bug Problem

By Julia Scaglione

The world measures 510 million square kilometers in surface area. Think about how small you are on that scale. Now, think about something—an arachnid—even smaller, around 10 millimeters at biggest. One would assume that such a small speck couldn’t possibly have an impact on our massive planet. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, as those specks are wreaking havoc around the globe. That 10-millimeter creature is a tick, and as of 2019, the threat of ticks spreading diseases to humans is rapidly increasing.

However, one scientist is working to uncover technology that will stop the threat and change the way ticks impact humanity. Meet Brian Leydet.

Leydet began researching tick-borne diseases as a master of public health student at the University of North Florida. He continued his advanced studies as a doctoral student at Louisiana State University’s (LSU) School of Veterinary Medicine. Upon completing the doctoral  degree, he continued to study at both the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake, NY, and Southern Research in Birmingham, AL. Now, Leydet teaches and runs his own lab at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), collaborating with fellow researchers, students, and faculty to develop his tick technology—a necessary project as the threat of diseased ticks spreads.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the total number of tick-borne disease cases in the United States has nearly tripled since 2004, an unsurprising trend as climate change allows for ticks to thrive in new environments. Ticks spread both familiar and emerging bacterial, viral, and protozoan diseases—such as typhus, Lyme disease, Q fever, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever—and, in the case of the lone star tick, they can even cause an allergy to red meat, called alpha-gal syndrome.

Upon first glance, one may think that ticks can be taken out using pesticides or repellents; however, those treatments are often not effective. Allison Burrows, a student at Syracuse University College of Law’s Innovation Law Center, working with Leydet, explains that “we have products that kill and repel ticks, but they don’t do a very good job at it and many are poisonous to the environment.” Leydet adds that, “the ones that kill ticks create genetic resistance, rendering them unusable in the future.”

The combination of a growing problem and lack of a solution led Leydet to his current research: developing technology to standardize the testing and identification of new chemicals to create effective types of tick repellants. Leydet believes that the technology will enable him to identify behavior-modifying chemicals that will not kill the ticks or create genetic resistance, but rather keep them off of humans. “Not only will this technology combat the increasing diseases in humans, but it will also protect ecosystems from harmful sprays and toxins,” says Leydet.

As there has been no advances in combating ticks in the past few decades, Leydet’s work is the first of its kind, and thus he is collaborating with faculty and students at the New York State Science and Technology Law Center—housed in the Innovation Law Center—to patent his work. The students are currently working on a variety of projects for Leydet, including developing IP and market landscapes and identifying regulatory implications. Additionally, the students are helping Leydet explore patentability for both his innovative tick repellant technology and the theory behind it. The overall work will help identify whether the technology is marketable, which in turn will determine what path the researcher will take in the future.

Looking forward, Leydet believes that his work has the potential to effect change and save lives. In the meantime, he’ll continue to gather ticks in the coming months to conduct the essential tests for the technology. “Theoretically and logically, the technology should work,” Leydet states. “But science can always throw you a curve ball,” he adds with a laugh.

Overall, Leydet says he wants to better our world by helping people and the environment. With the path he’s on now, there’s no doubt that he’ll do just that. So, keep an eye on those CDC reports of tick-borne illnesses, as in the coming years—if things go right for Leydet and his new technology—a great decrease is expected.