An interactive online learning system developed by Professor Karl Okamoto and alumna Emily Foote, ’10, has been patented by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, with help from former students and a determined patent lawyer at BakerHostetler.
Okamoto conceived the system after teaching transactional lawyering skills through simulations that provide students with experts’ feedback on their performance. Okamoto developed his simulations into the LawMeets competitions he launched and then expanded his innovation into an online learning platform.
“The goal is to scale learning by doing,” Okamoto said.
The interactive video-based system enables students or employees to practice, demonstrate and receive assessment on key skills and competencies via an online platform using a mobile device or computer. The evaluations elicited and captured online from peers and experts enable students to improve upon their performance and engage with peers and coaches.
Okamoto received more than $1 million in National Science Foundation funding to develop the online system, which he partnered with Foote to commercialize through a startup edtech company now known as Practice.xyz.
“Every startup thinks they need a patent. So when we founded ours, Emily and I turned to the best patent lawyer we knew in the Drexel community,” Okamoto said.
Steve Rocci, a senior partner at BakerHostetler and law school advisory board member, led a team of students completing co-op placements at the firm in preparing and prosecuting the patent application.
Rocci said that alumna Laura Gordon, ’14, did an excellent job drafting the original patent application in 2013. But a 2014 Supreme Court ruling suddenly made it much harder to secure patents related to online learning, and the applications were rejected twice, Rocci explained.
Early in 2016, Viantinna Campana Bordas, ’16, stepped in and made compelling arguments that prompted the Patent Office to reconsider, Rocci said, citing claims that clarified the learning system’s distinctive method of creating a community of students, peers and experts that can interact with one another through network interfaces.
“Without Laura’s work, we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are. She got us to the red zone,” Rocci said. “And Viantinna got us to the end zone.”
Foote, now the chief client success officer and board member at Practice, credited Rocci for his relentless pursuit of the patent and said the award serves as a powerful affirmation of the system. Practice recently completed a Series A financing led by some of the leading edtech investors in the country and counts companies like Comcast and Walmart and institutions like Penn Medicine and Drexel University among its customers.
“It’s not just software where you’re uploading videos and getting feedback,” Foote said. “There’s a teaching methodology behind it. The patent is a validation that the methodology is powerful. It confirms what the company has always been about: helping clients deliver learning.”
The employers and academic institutions who make up Practice’s clientele frequently comment that the methodology is more effective than other online learning systems, Foote said.
“I received a great education at the Kline School of Law because of its emphasis on experiential learning and pedagogical innovation,” Foote said. “I am very happy to be leading a company that is extending that tradition with the help of the Drexel community.”