An Award Winning Pro Bono Practice Advancing and Protecting the IP of Indigenous Populations
In March 2012, Sterne Kessler formally launched its Intellectual Property and Human Rights Pro Bono Practice under the vision and leadership of Director Jorge A. Goldstein, Ph.D. Unlike traditional pro bono practices, Sterne Kessler's program integrates legal concepts from the areas of Intellectual Property law with Economic, Social, and Cultural human rights to empower disenfranchised and impoverished communities seeking to promote their economic and social development by leveraging their IP assets. To protect our clients' ESC rights, Sterne Kessler's practice:
- Improves fair access to patent rights for technological developments in impoverished areas of the world;
- Patents and then leverages indigenous knowledge, such as in the use of rainforest plants or creative agricultural techniques;
- Uses other IP rights, such as trademarks or licenses, to assist disenfranchised groups in developing viable income streams; and
- In developing IP based natural genetic resources, works closely under the guidelines of the Convention for Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing for indigenous communities.
Through Sterne Kessler's pro bono program, the firm has assisted many deserving organizations and underserved communities -- both locally and internationally. The following is a list of representative matters our team has supported:
- Union for Ethical BioTrade - helped develop IP policy for our client UEBT, an organization that promotes the conservation of biodiversity through ethical sourcing practices
- A member of the Monacan Tribe of Virginia - prepared and filed patent applications on novel feeding and growing techniques useful in the hydroponic industry
- Ecoflora Cares - prepared and prosecuted several applications on the use of a blue colored rainforest fruit from Colombia as a source of edible colorants for the food industry
- Independent Inventors Conference - provided volunteer inventor assistance through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) sponsored program
- Discovery Creek Children's Museum of Washington - secured trademark protection
- Operation Second Chance - secured trademark protection
- National Working Group on Maca - protecting indigenous Peruvians from biopiracy
In 2015, the Sterne Kessler pro bono practice won the Financial Times' Most Innovative North American Lawyers award in the category of "Innovation in Social Responsibility Project," with special commendation to Dr. Goldstein. In 2012 and 2013, the National Law Journal recognized the practice in its "Intellectual Property Hot List."