Strategic Response, Investigations and Litigation
Legal challenges confronting colleges and universities can quickly escalate into multidisciplinary matters with significant legal, financial and reputational consequences. We work with educational institutions to develop and execute strategies to defend or advance a position—whether responding to fast-moving events or working over the longer term to craft and implement legislative or regulatory solutions to complex problems.
We have represented numerous education clients in internal, regulatory and congressional investigations. These include investigations of universities' use of research funds, investigations of guaranteed student loan providers, and investigations of nonprofit and for-profit college recruiting and student aid practices.
We have also handled a wide range of offensive and defensive litigation for colleges and universities. In doing so we are mindful that educational institutions have numerous internal and external constituencies—including students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and parents—that have differing interests and perspectives. We also take into account that litigation involving educational institutions attracts out-sized public attention and often concerns difficult and divisive public policy issues.
- We conducted internal reviews for universities facing high-profile matters with legal and reputational risks.
- We represented Duke University in litigation by former lacrosse players.
- We have prevailed in sensitive litigation over claims to art and antiquities in university and museum collections, including a dispute over Persian antiquities.
- We represented a coalition of national universities accused by the Department of Justice of violating antitrust laws in providing scholarships.
- We represented the University of Michigan before the United States Supreme Court in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, which addressed the ability of higher education institutions to consider racial and cultural background in admissions.
Intellectual property can be among an academic institution's most vital assets. To manage this important commodity, colleges and universities need an experienced and trusted partner. WilmerHale has one of the largest and most experienced intellectual property departments in the country. Our intellectual property lawyers assist schools with strategic planning, identify inventions for which patents should be sought and advise on what claims to make and how best to make them. WilmerHale's Intellectual Property Litigation Practice has been recognized by The American Lawyer as the finest in the country.
- We have prosecuted patents for universities, including Boston University, Brown University, Columbia University, Harvard University, Michigan State University, Rutgers University, University of Chicago, and University of Pittsburgh, and for medical facilities such as the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
- We advised Columbia University on the development of a strategic plan for the commercialization of a collection of patents. We analyzed and classified the technologies for marketing purposes, researched potential markets, identified possible licensees and delivered a comprehensive strategy far beyond the capability of most university technology transfer offices.
- We help manage university patent portfolios, provide patentability assessments and identify advantageous licensing opportunities.
- On behalf of a major university and its licensee, we prevailed in a patent interference proceeding concerning an active agent in a drug for the treatment of septic shock. The decision was upheld in an appeal before the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Regulatory and Legislative
We are well-versed in the many regulatory obligations imposed on higher education institutions and for-profit education companies, and regularly provide advice on the areas of most pressing and consistent concern. We also represent numerous universities and educational companies before Congress, assuring that their interests are taken into account in legislation.
- We advise universities and commercial organizations on compliance with federal education laws.
- We provide guidance to clients on the use of federal grant, cooperative agreement or contract funds.
- We advise clients on the regulatory constraints surrounding research and product development in biotech, medical and other spheres, and on the increasingly regulated domain of data privacy.
- University clients looking to export their technology turn to WilmerHale for advice on export controls pertaining to the transfer of technical data to overseas parties and the employment of foreign nationals—such as graduate students—in research conducted in the United States.
- We helped ensure that federal stimulus funds would be directed to school systems that need to acquire certain instructional materials.
Transactional (Corporate and Licensing)
Universities and other education clients rely on us for a host of transactional work, including mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, research collaboratives, technology transfers, and licensing. We understand the special challenges education clients face and the rules to which they may be subject when contemplating and executing transactions.
- We provide legal advice to university investment offices concerning their investments in various vehicles.
- We represent a consortium of New York-based academic and medical institutions in matters including entity formation, governance and other corporate, tax, licensing, employment and regulatory matters.
- We represented the Mexican National Institute for Astronomy, Optics and Electronics in a cross-border joint venture with the University of Massachusetts to construct a state-of-the-art large millimeter radio telescope observatory in Puebla, Mexico.
- We advised on the formation and structuring of The SNP Consortium, a public-private consortium in which The Wellcome Trust, leading global pharmaceutical and IT companies, and several major research universities in the United States and Britain collaborated to develop a publicly released map of the human genome based on the discovery and classification of single-nucleotide polymorphisms.
- We have represented major for-profit and nonprofit organizations in acquiring education oriented companies, such as Educational Testing Service's acquisitions of Assessment Training Institute and Prometric.
- We represented some of the largest research universities in the country in customizing technology transfer agreements with private enterprises to their needs and particular technology requirements.