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Students confer with Professor Cripps

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

At IU Bloomington, we enjoy involving our students in law in action. For example, our Elmore Entrepreneurship Law Clinic takes students through the preliminary stages of applying for a patent,” says Professor Yvonne Cripps.

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Indiana Law Professor Yvonne Cripps says her interest in biotechnology began long before the topic captured headlines, raising its profile as an important social and economic force.

“Ever since my teens, I have been passionately interested in issues involving biotechnology,” says Cripps, who became the first Harry T. Ice Chair of Law in 2000. An internationally acclaimed scholar specializing in intellectual property law and biotechnology, her research has recently been cited in the Harvard Law Review and the Boston Globe, among other publications. “When I first began working in this field in the late 1970s, it seemed that my interests were akin to science fiction. The times have certainly changed, to my very great delight.”

Cripps says her fascination with the patenting of biotechnological inventions leads to exciting debates with her students about the latest developments in stem cell technologies, cloning, and genetic modification.

To provide her law students with tangible examples of biotechnological issues, Cripps takes a group to the Indiana University Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics each year. The students learn about the latest developments in the relevant sciences and issues involving intellectual property rights, particularly patents over biological material and the equipment needed to process it. “They [at the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics] are telling us about the latest in the sciences and we are telling them about the latest developments in the law,” she says of the collaboration with the center’s deputy director, Jennifer Steinbachs, and her colleagues.

This kind of relationship is crucial, as lawyers today live in an increasingly interdisciplinary world, Cripps says. “You cannot be involved in this field without interaction with other disciplines and institutions.” Many of her students combine their law degree with a degree from IU’s top-ranked Kelley School of Business or one of IU’s renowned science programs.

Cripps says the Indiana Life Sciences Initiative, augmented substantially by the Lilly Foundation’s grant to the IU School of Law—Bloomington, places Indiana University in a position to lead the nation—and even the world—in the field of biotechnology. She is thrilled about Lilly’s latest project: pharmaceuticals targeted to our individual genomes, something that has been made possible since the human genome was sequenced in 2000.

“It’s so exciting from a pharmaceutical point of view,” she says. “The SNIP map of genes will enable us to identify where a misstep in code leads to the dysfunction of disease. Once you know that, you can invent pharmaceutical or other biological inventions to address the problem.

“This is where my students and I enter the picture as intellectual property lawyers. At IU Bloomington, we enjoy involving our students in law in action. For example, our Elmore Entrepreneurship Law Clinic takes students through the preliminary stages of applying for a patent.”

This past spring, Cripps spoke at Yale Law School about the potential future legal landscape in biotechnology. She also recently helped host a stem cell symposium at Indiana Law, bringing in speakers from around the campus and the country.

And while her research passions continue to capture headlines and inspire debate, Cripps remains committed to mentoring tomorrow’s researchers.