Pro Bono EntreprenHERship Clinic Draws Large Turnout

Published: March 16, 2022

Alicia Morris Groos

Alicia Morris Groos Pirkey Barber PLLC Austin, Texas, USA Public Information Committee—SME Stories Subcommittee

INTA hosted a virtual Pro Bono EntreprenHERship Clinic on March 8 in conjunction with International Women’s Day. Spearheaded by the Association’s Pro Bono Committee, it marked INTA’s third and best-attended virtual clinic, offering free access to legal information related to trademarks and other intellectual property (IP). And it was the first virtual clinic focused on women business owners.

The one-hour event drew more than 40 volunteer attorneys from at least 20 law firms in eight countries, as well as business applicants from 42 companies or nonprofit organizations in six countries. Attorneys who are INTA members and applicants from anywhere in the world could sign up to participate and discuss a range of topics related to trademark clearance and prosecution.

INTA kicked off the event with a video presentation featuring Tiffany Miranda, founder of Girls Make Beats, a nonprofit organization based in Florida, USA, that strives to empower the next generation of female leaders in the music industry.

The video embraced the spirit behind the Pro Bono EntreprenHership Clinic: to help connect aspiring female business owners with access to much-needed legal counsel to set them on the road to success.

The video highlighted the fact that females are the largest growing group of entrepreneurs worldwide. For example, in the United States, there are approximately 13 million women-owned business, representing approximately four of 10 businesses in the United States and accounting for US $1.8 trillion in revenue annually. But women in the U.S. and around the world also face unique challenges, including lack of resources, lack of access to finance, and lack of time, which can hinder their chances of success.

After the introductory remarks, attorneys and applicants were paired up and moved into breakout rooms for individual consultations. While not all attorneys who signed up were matched with a business applicant, all applicants received help at the clinic. Participant enthusiasm was evident from the many comments in the chat function, such as “fabulous,” “very insightful,” “amazing,” “most helpful,” and “I think this was great.”

Marina Biragova, an IP attorney, and a professor at Southern University Law Center (SULC), an INTA member organization in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA, participated in the legal clinic for the first time. She was paired with a female business owner whose company provides consulting, training, and coaching to authors, nonprofit organizations, faith-based institutions, and small businesses, including women-owned businesses.

Ms. Biragova pointed out that the most important thing entrepreneurs need to know about trademarks is that, “in a nutshell, having a trademark allows your customers to find you. I can think of very few things more relevant than this.”

Afterward, Ms. Biragova called the volunteer experience “amazing and rewarding.” Her favorable impression speaks volumes as she directs pro bono legal services in her role at SULC.

She emphasized that pro bono legal clinics, such as the EntreprenHERship Clinic, are important because, due to costs of legal help, sometimes “small business owners and starting entrepreneurs simply opt out of legal counsel—which can be fatal to a business. For women, the gender pay gap creates further significant economic impediments to accessing legal services.”

Ms. Biragova added: “I am hopeful that pro bono events and campaigns like this one can help us bridge the gap and ensure that women-owned businesses get an opportunity to access the full potential and benefits of legal counsel.”

While focused on female entrepreneurs, the event was open to all small businesses. Ben White, associate at WilCraft Can, LLC, Oak Creek, Wisconsin, USA, the state’s first and only mobile canner, took advantage of the offering. He learned about the clinic from an email announcement sent by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, of which he is a member.

Quite coincidentally, Mr. White was paired with attorney Ben White, a partner at IPLA Trademark Law, San Diego, California, USA. The two forged a bond over their shared name.

Moreover, they agreed that trademarks are critically important to small and medium-sized companies (SMEs).

“Trademarks are a competitive advantage! Plus, it shows potential clients you’re serious and it is an important point of differentiation,” said Mr. White, the business owner, who shares several patents with other co-inventors.

Mr. White, the attorney, concurred that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Trademark issues are almost always avoidable if they are addressed at the proper time. I do not think that small and medium-sized businesses always appreciate this.”

“They also have to make tough decisions on where to allocate resources. In that way, consultation with a trademark attorney is perhaps most critical for smaller businesses as they have much more to lose if a conflict ensues.”

Both men concurred that the clinic was a worthwhile exercise.

The attorney noted that until the clinic, “I had no idea that mobile custom canning and printing was a business—fascinating! I quickly got up to speed and was able to work to address Ben’s trademark issues. I had a great time explaining the underlying trademark rules and also getting to know ‘Wilcraft Ben’ a bit more.”

He noted: “It was a great experience and one that I think all serious trademark attorneys should participate in. Icing on the cake is that we both had the same name!”

As an entrepreneur, Mr. White said, “It was a great experience, and I’m very appreciative it was offered and that I was selected to participate.”

Year-round, the INTA Pro Bono Clearinghouse provides legal assistance upon request. Eligible clients facing trademark issues are matched with member attorneys who volunteer to provide services free of charge. A global initiative, it is the only program of its kind dedicated primarily to trademarks.

The Clearinghouse serves low-income individuals, SMEs, and not-for-profit, and nonprofit or charitable organizations with low operating budgets that might not otherwise have affordable access to legal assistance. Potential clients must have a valid trademark issue and demonstrate financial need.

For those looking to get help or get involved as volunteers, the Clearinghouse accepts applications from anywhere in the world. On INTA’s website, potential applicants and attorneys can access applications, as well as learn about future INTA pro bono clinics and services, whether virtually or in person.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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