Incoming 1L Milan Shah Has Engineered Inventions — And Now He’s Creating a New Career Path

Milan Shah

Milan Shah’s goal is to become a patent and intellectual property lawyer and a patent judge. Courtesy photos

July 29, 2022

If you spend much time shooting the breeze with Milan Shah, you might come away with a useful thingamajig and — if you stick with him after the bar exam — you could end up with a patent someday.

The incoming first-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law holds a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from Clemson University, along with several (as-yet-unpatented) inventions. His goal in attending UVA Law is to become a patent and intellectual property lawyer and, ultimately, a judge.

His tinkering in college and graduate school have already led to innovative and industrious products, including a “desktop hydroponics system” to promote microfarming in college dorm rooms.

“My roommate loves to grow his own plants, and he’s very much into sustainability, solar panels and conservation,” Shah said. “The systems are usually very large and they’re not particularly effective for dorm rooms, so we said, ‘Well, how do we make one that’s amenable to students?’”

The result looked and functioned like a desktop organizer for pens and sticky notes, but it had hidden sensors, reservoirs and feeders for water and nutrients. It won fourth place in a college pitch competition, but it’s now sitting on a shelf in Shah’s parents’ house in Greenville, South Carolina.

“You know, I think life gets in the way of life sometimes,” Shah said. “We have a lot of unfinished products, but it was a fun experience just to pitch it and try out something we’ve never done before.”

Shah and his roommates also won second place for pitching an app that pairs cocktails with food dishes, but most of his creative engineering has been in the biomedical field, including a leg prosthetic and a small surgical instrument to make a niche tear-duct surgery simpler and faster.

After successfully designing those products, he quickly received a crash MBA course in the obstacles to bringing an actual product to market, including unsuitable profit margins on a tiny device for a niche surgery.

“We took the loss,” Shah said. “It was something to learn from, and it’s also important to appreciate when it’s time to stop a project.”

Milan Shah
Shah was a member of Clemson University’s debate team and traveled to more than 40 tournaments.

Law was always on Shah’s mind as he entered college, so he spent all four undergraduate years on Clemson’s debate team, an experience that gave him and his teammates the opportunity to travel to more than 40 tournaments, including one in Slovenia and another in Bangkok.

“I personally enjoy argumentation, rhetoric and defending the ideas of technologies,” Shah said. “I’d like to have that connection to the broader pursuit of moving society forward in a technological space and helping people grow their businesses by protecting their assets in a global marketplace.”

Despite his accomplishments, Shah didn’t always have an innate sense of confidence in his own ideas or his own skin. While touring the Angkor Wat monastery with his debate team during the trip to Thailand, he fell violently ill due to a chronic health issue, but he had hidden the problem for years to avoid mockery or being perceived as high-maintenance.

When the 402-acre Buddhist temple somehow materialized exactly the thing he needed at his most vulnerable moment — you’ll have to ask him what the “thing” was — he felt a rush of gratitude, recognition and healing. He returned to find teammates who were genuinely concerned about his well-being, not annoyed by his absence or his needs.

“I realized that putting my personal image above my value as a person was detrimental to my well-being,” Shah said. “There’s so much in life that we choose not to do and not to express just to avoid failure or to avoid being rebuked. That cheats us all out of the value of creative expression.”

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