Shyla Jones, Of Counsel at Ice Miller, LLP (USA), finds that INTA's Pro Bono Clearinghouse not only gives individuals, small businesses, and nonprofits the trademark advice they need, but it also gives her and other participating attorneys a sense of satisfaction.
What is the Pro Bono Trademark Clearinghouse?
INTA began rolling out the Pro Bono Trademark Clearinghouse pilot program in July 2017, following several years of work by members of INTA's Pro Bono Committee.
The Clearinghouse matches an individual, small business, or nonprofit in the U.S. in need of free trademark advice with a qualified trademark attorney. The only criteria are that the potential client has a genuine financial need and has an actual trademark issue.
The test project has gone very well so far, and we hope soon to open it up to anyone involved in INTA who's interested in doing pro bono trademark work. We also aim to extend the program beyond the United States, probably starting with Latin America.
What kind of clients are using the Clearinghouse?
We have had more than 400 applicants so far. Most of them are individuals who are starting a small business and looking to protect their name, or to get on the Amazon Marketplace, which recently started requiring sellers to have a registered trademark. We also have some people apply once they have had a refusal from the Trademark Office and need advice on how to deal with that.
"The test project has gone very well so far, and we hope soon to open it up to anyone involved in INTA who's interested in doing pro bono trademark work."
The first stage in the Clearinghouse process is to examine and review applications from potential clients; anyone can help with that, even non-U.S. lawyers. Once applicants are approved, they are assigned to U.S. attorneys to work directly with them.
I've done two cases so far, and have very much enjoyed working on them. They've been relatively simple matters, including some trademark clearance work, as well as trademark filing and navigating the prosecution process. It's very rewarding, and the clients are very appreciative.
In some cases, they can respond to an action from the Trademark Office, rather than just let it drop because they couldn't afford to deal with it without assistance from the Clearinghouse. I would absolutely recommend the Clearinghouse to individuals, small businesses, and nonprofits with limited resources in need of trademark assistance.
What is the next step for the pilot program?
The ultimate goal is to set up the Clearinghouse everywhere. However, we recognize that it is more difficult in some countries than in others.
As we expand the pilot, we will welcome people outside of the Committee who want to be involved. If anyone is interested, I would say, go for it! It's not as time-consuming as you might think. It's very similar to your regular work, and it is rewarding to help others.
Often, when you tell people you're a trademark lawyer they think that's not the kind of lawyer that can help them, so it's very nice to find an opportunity to be able to use your skills to give something back to the community.
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