This semester UNC School of Law
students have a new hands-on learning opportunity: providing trademark counsel
to entrepreneurs in conjunction with a program of the U.S. Patent and Trademark
UNC was among 19 schools the
USPTO selected this past summer to participate in the Law School Clinic
Certification Pilot Program. Twenty-eight other law schools currently are
involved. North Carolina Central University School of Law is the only other
North Carolina school represented.
“Carolina Law students now have
the invaluable opportunity to gain real-world experience in the complex area of
intellectual property law,” says associate professor of law and director of
Clinical Programs Tamar
Birckhead. “We are preparing them to serve as the next generation of
lawyers to protect American ideas and support innovation, while providing pro
bono legal representation to more communities. Our participation in the program
will help ensure that these small businesses will have the resources to grow,
create jobs and compete in the global marketplace.”
After an extensive application
process, law schools were chosen based on their intellectual property
curriculum, support for students’ hands-on learning, pro bono opportunities,
case management strength and commitment to community networking.
Students counsel clients
regarding the availability of a trademark, the potential effectiveness of a
proposed mark, pros and cons of pursuing registration of the mark, the stages
involved in moving forward with registration, possible challenges to the
application, and related issues. For students to practice before the USPTO, law
school clinics must meet and maintain the office’s certification requirements.
Under the auspices of UNC’s
Community Development Law Clinic, two 3L students are working on trademark
cases, and each student will earn a total of six credits over two semesters.
UNC School of Law adjunct professor Devon White, an
attorney at Wyrick Robbins, supervises the students. If the initiative is
successful, more students may be involved in subsequent years.
White, who teaches a trademark
transition-to-practice course at UNC, is in the process of developing a student
instructional manual, forms, representation standards and case management
protocols for these cases.
“Students are gaining valuable
practice experience in assisting clients with strategies in selecting and
clearing trademarks and prosecuting federal trademark applications at the
USPTO,” White says. “The benefits of this practical work will enhance student
knowledge developed in academic courses and help to develop important client
To find qualifying clients, UNC
is working with entrepreneurial leaders in the community as well as receiving
referrals from the USPTO. Eight to 10 clients will be served in the first year.
“This program adds a whole new
dimension to our intellectual property program,” says assistant professor Deborah
Gerhardt, an expert on trademark law who assisted with UNC’s application to
the USPTO. “Students will learn how gratifying it is to use their knowledge to
help clients navigate complex trademark problems.”
“New entrepreneurs sometimes
face trademark bullying by brand owners who overreach in asserting their
rights,” Gerhardt says. But new business owners often can’t afford intellectual
property counsel, and UNC will help fill that void.
There’s also an advantage for
UNC law students’ future employers. “As with all of our clinical programs, the
knowledge and experience that students gain will save firms significant
training costs, because our graduates will be ready to work independently on
these cases from day one,” Birckhead says.
Posted by Tamar R. Birckhead on Fri. October 31, 2014 4:20 PM
Community Development Law Clinic