Entrepreneurship & Intellectual Property Clinic Partners with Patent & Trademark Office to Provide Free Legal Services to Inventors

Washington University School of Law’s Entrepreneurship & Intellectual Property (EIP) Clinic has joined the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s launch of the Patent Pro Bono Program. The new program provides free legal assistance to under-resourced inventors interested in securing patent protection.

“We are excited to partner with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Gateway Venture Mentoring Service, as we build upon the vital work of our EIP Clinic to support St. Louis’s growing start-up community,” said Geetha Rao Sant, JD ’89, lecturer in law and EIP Clinic co-director. “This new program will not only expand the range of opportunities for our clinic students who work with IP clients, but also will fill a vital need for inventors who don’t have the capital to begin the patent process.”

Through the Pro Bono program, a low-income individual or small business with an invention or other potentially patentable good applies for assistance through the Federal Circuit Bar Association. If the association deems the application viable, it will be sent to the Gateway Venture Mentoring Service, a nonprofit entrepreneur support organization based in St. Louis. Gateway VMS will then coordinate with the EIP clinic.

Under the supervision of the EIP Clinic’s experienced intellectual property attorneys, law students will work directly with the inventor to determine the likelihood of obtaining a patent by performing a prior arts search and drafting a patentability opinion. If the clinic determines the invention can be patentable, the inventor will be referred to a local attorney to complete the patent process.

“The energy and enthusiasm that local entrepreneurs and our law students will bring to this project make for an ideal partnership,” said David Deal, lecturer in law and EIP Clinic co-director. “Our clinic is pleased to be able to assist those with an innovative idea navigate the initial steps of the patent process – while supporting the work of entrepreneurs as they pursue their innovations beginning at the ground floor.”

The mission of the EIP Clinic is to provide experiential and professional practice opportunities for students, while offering a variety of legal services to nonprofits, for-profit startups, and small entrepreneurs. Clients range from community and education groups to international organizations and include several businesses and churches in north St. Louis city and county neighborhoods, such as Ferguson, Dellwood, and O’Fallon Park.

EIP Clinic students and faculty annually provide roughly 10,000 hours of free legal service to the community, which is equivalent of six professional lawyers working full time. In addition to the new patent project, the clinic provides such services as business entity selection and formation, tax structure and financing advice, contract review and drafting, employment counseling, copyright protection, and trademark registration.