A student at the University of Washington Law School got an opportunity to practice patent law, and a budding entrepreneur got a chance to have his invention potentially protected and commercialized, thanks to DWT associate Ben Byer and a new program at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The Patent Pilot Program allows law students to represent clients before the USPTO under the strict guidance of a faculty supervisor. The UW is one of a handful of institutions around the country participating.

The program wasn’t scheduled to officially get underway at the UW until 2013. But Byer, who has been working at the school’s renowned Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, found that one of the clinic’s clients was so well-suited for the initiative, it was important to launch early.

“I told UW’s faculty that if ever there was somebody in need of patent services, it was this client,” says Byer. The client, a graduate student at the university, has invented a novel physical therapy device with great commercial potential.

Byer, who got his undergraduate degree at the UW and is now a patent litigator, has spearheaded the launch of the clinic—determining who should do what, when, and creating a plan for handling conflicts and other issues. To meet USPTO requirements, a complex division of roles was needed between the law school, the university’s technology transfer office, and outside pro bono attorneys. “It’s been a lot of fun,” Byer says.

This past quarter, Byer worked with a student to draft and file an application to the USPTO on the grad student’s behalf. Normally a response can take 3-4 years, but the USPTO has pledged to speed the applications of participants in the program, so that the law students gain experience not only in drafting and filing but also communicating with patent examiners regarding the applications.

“The accelerated schedule will allow one student to see the whole process through,” says Byer.  “This not only benefits the student, but also the pro bono client.”

Full Winter 2013 Pro Bono Report