Student and Alumnus Help Inventor Through Georgia PATENTS Program
There are a lot of barriers—especially for people with limited resources—to developing a product or starting a company, said Brad Czerwonky (J.D. ’18). The Georgia Lawyers for the Arts Georgia PATENTS program is working to reduce those barriers by connecting solo inventors, nonprofits and small businesses with limited financial resources with patent agents and attorneys who will offer pro bono assistance in filing a patent.
Czerwonky is the first student to help a client through Georgia PATENTS, which launched in spring 2015. The program was established by passionate Intellectual Property professionals to provide a much needed service to inventors in Georgia, said Michelle Imoukhuede, director of the Georgia PATENTS program.
“Artists have access to protecting their art, and inventors also should have access to protecting their inventions,” Imoukhuede said. “Giving innovators and scientists—who may not otherwise have the chance due to financial means—an opportunity to do something with their invention is important.”
The program is a way to encourage entrepreneurs to follow their dreams, Czerwonky said. “You never know what someone is capable of unless you give them an opportunity,” he said. “Even if their first product isn’t a success, perhaps going through the application process will inspire them to continue coming up with ideas and fighting for success. Failure is almost inevitable at some point along the way, but having a cheerleader will give some folks the confidence to keep trying.”
Kean DeCarlo (J.D. ’97), a patent attorney at Taylor English Duma LLP, assisted and mentored Czerwonky in filing the patent for client Bonita Eskridge. Eskridge developed her invention, a comfortable, sanitary, and reusable shopping cart handle cover, that will eliminate the need for antibacterial wipes and offers a more comfortable grip, as well as provides a convenient, secure tethering point for car keys, baby toys and such. She is pursuing plans to commercialize her invention.
Though he has worked on numerous patent applications as a patent agent at Taylor English Duma LLP, Czerwonky said working with the PATENTS program was a great learning experience. The PATENTS program is a great experiential example of the many pro bono opportunities Georgia State Law helps facilitate to further students’ professional development.
“I learned a good bit from Kean, from the process of setting up a client to counseling the client, such as by making patent-related recommendations to her and even encouraging her to consider other forms of intellectual property related to her product, to answering various questions she had after filing her application,” Czerwonky said. “I also learned that even when working on a pro bono matter, our professional responsibilities really do not change—as it should be.”
Working with Czerwonky and DeCarlo was “absolutely fabulous,” Eskridge said. “I found their compassion and interest in my desire to patent my product to be very caring and genuine. I’ve always had a passion to be an entrepreneur ever since I was a little girl, starting out selling candy apples and jolly rancher suckers in the mid 1970s. Brad and Kean are helping make my dream come true.”
The PATENTS program requires inventors to research whether similar patents exist, take a USPTO Online Training course and participate in other training activities before being partnered with an attorney. After reviewing Eskridge’s research, the team decided a design patent was the best option for her product.
“A utility patent is typically broader but one that is commercially valuable can be difficult to get in a crowded space,” Czerwonky said. “A design patent will still provide protection if anyone gets too close to her product.”
For Czerwonky, who loves “designing and building and tinkering with things,” and who holds several patents himself, working with creative types is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.
“In patent law you still get to talk with creative minds and figure out how to communicate what they have done with others. It’s a way to tap creative juices,” he said.
Czerwonky earned a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and worked in product development before becoming a patent agent. He is pursuing a J.D. to become a patent attorney.
The program is ideal for students who want to gain experience in IP law, and especially for those that have an interest in pro bono work, he said.
“It gave me more experience working with someone I wouldn’t normally work with,” he said. “Most patent lawyers have corporate clients—we do have some small clients as well, but doing pro bono gives you a different perspective that I think is helpful in work generally.”
Czerwonky said getting to know Eskridge as they worked together was also an enriching experience. “In spite of her own limited resources, she also gives back,” he said. Eskridge worked in health care before becoming disabled in 2006. She was the primary caretaker of her mother, who died in December. She advocates for and assists the elderly, and recently completed training to volunteer as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for children.
Imoukhuede said clients have been extremely grateful for the program. “Whether or not their invention will become the next big thing, they are thankful to have an opportunity to educate themselves and obtain necessary patent protection.”
Students interested in working with a patent attorney or agent on a pro bono PATENTS case can find more information at glarts.org/patents.