The law firm of Fish & Richardson recently collaborated with California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA) to host a complimentary reception and interactive discussion on the California Inventors Assistance Program (CIAP) with the goal of providing a better understanding of the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) national effort towards implementing regional patent pro bono programs for financially under-resourced inventors, entrepreneurs and artists, and to expand the pool of CIAP volunteer attorneys to the San Diego legal community. The California Inventors Assistance Program is the largest regional pro bono program established so far under Section 32 of the America Invents Act (AIA).
The program’s panelists included Bob Pimm of CLA, Jeffrey Siew of the USPTO, Erik Metzger of Intel Corporation and Katie Niejadlik, former pro bono manager of Fish & Richardson. Chris Marchese of Fish & Richardson served as the moderator.
Pimm started off the panel discussion by providing background on CLA and an overview of CIAP. CLA was selected as the statewide Administrator of the AIA regional program in California to process pro bono intakes. Pimm explained that CLA’s financial screening process takes a holistic approach to make sure CLA sees the complete financial picture of each applicant, rather than a simple formulaic approach used by many pro bono services. The screening process also includes other factors to make sure applicants can be helped by attorneys when matched. “Each screening is done carefully but with much flexibility,” said Pimm. “We send out a detailed invention questionnaire, and if the potential client qualifies, they are matched with the lawyer that best fits their needs.” This, he explained, results in a higher success rate.
Siew continued the discussion by stressing the importance of CIAP to economic development and job creation across the country. He explained that the program will increase accessibly to the patent system, promote small business growth and development and ensure that no deserving invention lacks patent protection because of a lack of affordable IP counsel. Although USPTO oversees CIAP, it does not actually run the program. “Regional programs are the cornerstone of CIA,” said Siew. “USPTO is working to expand the coverage of CIAP into all 50 states, and we provide training for these regional programs. However, each regional program can set their own guidelines depending upon what most benefits their inventors.”
Private companies are getting involved with CIAP as well. Intel has donated upwards of $10,000 a year to CIAP, and with 50 patent attorneys on staff, Intel has been able to leverage its expertise to the benefit of CIAP clients. Metzger explained that Intel originally thought that involvement with CIAP may have posed too high of a risk due to conflict of interest, so it developed a tiered system of class codes to prescreen applications. “We have actually found that 75 percent of matters are unrelated to Intel’s business,” said Metzger. This discovery now has Intel encouraging other companies to get involved.
Fish & Richardson has been a champion of CIAP since its creation in 2013. Niejadlik explained that prior to the development of this pro bono program, it was a challenge to engage Fish’s patent prosecutors in pro bono work, as most traditional pro bono opportunities are for litigators. “A goal of any law firm pro bono program is to identify meaningful opportunities that utilize the unique skills and resources your attorneys have to offer, in order to help clients that otherwise just wouldn’t have access to our justice system,” added Niejadlik, “and CIAP has helped us meet that goal.”
Fish attorneys self select CIAP matters from its weekly caselist, which enables attorneys to identify matters of personal interest and/or within their area of technical expertise. Since the program launched in early 2013, Fish attorneys have donated over 2,800 pro bono hours on 82 pro bono matters for 53 unique CIAP clients.
“Our attorneys find this work personally and professionally rewarding,” added Niejadlik. “They are able to help those less fortunate improve their financial situation, witness consumer product inventions come to fruition, and protect inventors from common scams that strip away IP rights.”
Marchese, a CLA Board member and pro bono volunteer, added that the program is a great learning tool for young associates. Fish’s pro bono policy mandates that a firm partner be staffed on all pro bono cases, so associates are given the opportunity to work one-on-one with an experienced mentor. “Working with CIAP has been such a worthwhile experience not only for me, but for Fish,” concluded Marchese.
Current results show there have been a total of 835 CIAP applicants from the beginning of the program – with 131 applicants placed. The valuation of services as reported by CIAP panel attorneys is an average of $8,321 dollars per client. Thus, the total value of pro bono services provided by attorneys to the independent inventor community by the CIAP so far is estimated to be $1,090,051.