November 14, 2022

Patent Clinic Celebrates Five Years

SBLC’s patent clinic continues to provide vital legal services to Oregon’s small businesses and trains the next generation of lawyers.

Lewis & Clark’s Small Business Legal Clinic (SBLC) is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its Patent Clinic. Five years ago, in August 2017, the SBLC supplemented its United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) certified law school clinic trademark program by establishing a Patent Clinic, and today remain the only USPTO certified law school clinic programs in Oregon. The programs allow clients to receive expedited processing and give the students limited recognition with the USPTO, which allows them to prosecute trademark and patent applications and speak directly with trademark and patent examiners in the USPTO.

In large part, much of the Patent Clinic is owed to the hard work and advocacy of alum Joe Makuch ’95. Makuch was heavily influenced by his own clinical experience and, as an alum, came to SBLC with the desire to start the Patent Clinic and give back to students. “Prior to his volunteering, we were unable to have a patent clinic because we did not have a patent attorney willing to take on cases,” recalls SBLC Clinical Professor, Susan Felstiner.

Today, Makuch’s dedication to students continues through the work of Dan Housley ’15, SBLC’s current Patent Adjunct Professor. Housely was similarly drawn back on the prospect of supporting students. “The practical experience I gained while a student at the SBLC was key toward my success as a practicing attorney, and returning as the Patent Adjunct let me give something back to the community,” says Housely. “We’re able to strengthen local businesses by providing critical legal work, while simultaneously training law students. Everybody wins.”

The impact of SBLC’s patent services can be transformative. Acquiring a patent is a major signal to investors. Determining exact value is notoriously difficult, but for most it’s a binary determination; you either have one or you don’t. When business owners acquire a patent, it shows dedication and investors see value. Unfortunately, patents are expensive and prosecuting them (the process of drafting, filing, and negotiating with the USPTO) can be quite difficult. The attorney costs of drafting alone can be at least $10,000. Filing, with normal fees, is almost $2,000. Thanks to the generosity of the SBLC’s donors, the SBLC is able to offer its legal services for a nominal fee. This, in combination with the USPTO’s reduced filing fees for small and micro entities attorney fees, makes obtaining a patent in reach for SBLC clients.

The impact on students has been equally significant. “While I’ve been teaching the patent clinic, we’ve had two patents issued to our clients and five more patents in examination at the USPTO,” says Housely. “One of the 2 issued patents was rather tricky to get issued, and our students successfully navigated the situation. They had to petition the Technical Director. It’s a process that rarely ends favorably for Applicants, but in this case, our students prevailed. It was a first for both the clinic and my professional career.”

Since its inception, 21 students have participated in the SBLC Patent Clinic and 3 of those students returned as advanced students. Garry Brown ’18, one of two original patent clinic students, now works with global tech giant SLB (formerly Schlumberger) in Houston. Brown described his time with SBLC as enriching. “My most rewarding experience was helping a minority female business owner develop a sports bag in which a portion of the proceeds would go to her community.” The clinic also prepared Brown for his future career. “Hands-on interactions like this were invaluable, and I would never have gotten this opportunity as a junior associate at a law firm. I worked on issues involving Copyright, Trademark, and Patent. I was confident when presented with these matters at the firm because I had the foundation from the Patent Clinic.” His experience has come with advice for future students, “Enjoy every moment, learn as much as you can, ask lots of questions, and take notes because the information will be valuable as you start your career as an Intellectual Property attorney.”

If you would like to donate to the SBLC, please contact Juliana Minn, the SBLC’s Executive Director, at jminn@lclark.edu