A paint roller that makes working in tight corners efficient and easy. A simple method to grow crops anywhere on earth using parking-space sized “farmlets.” An easy-to-use surgical instrument that ensures consistent sutures for abdominal surgeries.

All these inventions and more are on the way to having their patents approved, thanks to the Washington Pro Bono Patent Network, a project of UW School of Law’s Center for Advanced Study and Research on Innovation Policy (CASRIP).

The network, which was formally launched in October 2017 with assistance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), matches low-income inventors with volunteer attorneys from some of Seattle’s top patent firms, including

Cooley, Davis Wright Tremaine, FisherBroyles, Fortem IP, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, Knobbe Martens, Lowe Graham Jones, Perkins Coie and Seed IP. Recently, the network became a Qualified Legal Service Provider, which means that attorneys can get continuing legal education credits for their hours of service.

The program was established in Washington thanks to the efforts of UW Prof. Jennifer Fan, who serves as the primary investigator for the Joint Program Agreement with the USPTO, and UW Prof. Zahr Said, who served as the lead director for CASRIP during the time of the network’s launch. The USPTO partially funds the Network. Fan is also director of the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic within CASRIP. 

“The Washington Pro Bono Patent Network fits right into the mission of CASRIP as UW Law’s innovation center,” Fan said. “In Washington state, there is a need to support low-income inventors who are coming up with innovations on their own, but who lack the support and funding to speak with patent counsel, which can be quite expensive.”

Fan said the process starts with an interview with inventors to make sure their invention is ready for the patent process. The network has helped a number of inventors, including Chad Clarke and his brother, Christopher, who invented the Corner Roller.  They had already filed provisional patent applications, but needed help with the complex, demanding, and usually expensive process of filing and defending a full patent application.

For the Clarke brothers, the network, “turned out to be quite a savior,” Chad Clarke said. He explained the brothers had filed a provisional application for their invention that they had written themselves, but it was on the verge of expiring and they couldn’t afford to hire a patent attorney to file and defend a final application.

With only two weeks until the deadline, the Clarkes were matched with the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, who managed to meet the deadline.

“It’s been nothing but a positive experience for us,” Clarke said. “I don’t know if we would have been able to keep going without their help. And now we’re starting to see the fruits of our labors, with orders to supply a couple of major retailers. And with our invention, it was essential to be protected, because it could have been easily replicated. The attorneys we’re working with have always been very helpful and responsive.”

Another inventor helped by the network is Richard Brion of Revolution Agriculture. Brion, a former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer, was once tasked with working to stem the tide of opium production in Afghanistan. That experience led him to see that farmers in less productive growing areas needed good options for growing profitable—and legal—crops.

“Everybody said it wasn’t possible,” Brion said. “I dug into it and found that people just weren’t trying it.”

His solution was to develop self-contained, scalable farmlets that he says can grow “anything, anywhere on the planet”—and do it 50 percent faster from seed to harvest than other methods.

Revolution Agriculture is currently rolling out an innovative model in the Seattle area where people with spare land can have a farmlet installed, on plats as small as a standard parking space, which will be cared for from planting through sale of the produce by Revolution employees — with the profits of the sales being shared with the host.

“The process from beginning to end was quite awesome,” Brion said. “The attorneys [from Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton] had extensive experience writing patents for agriculture-related stuff, which made it infinitely simpler. Currently, they’re helping us get patented in other countries. I would recommend the Network to other inventors in a heartbeat.”

The network also connected a team of UW Bioengineering students with their invention, the TenSURE suture tightener. The invention, developed by the group as part of a UW course, helps abdominal surgeons make tighter and more consistent sutures, lessening the risk of post-operative hernias.

Team member Trent Braswell said the network matched his team with Cooley.

“Every step of the way, we had great interactions with Cooley,” Braswell said. “Not only did they help us understand how to carry out the steps of pursuing a provisional patent, they also informed our team about common pitfalls to avoid, and additional information to consider including in our application to make the patent stronger. Working with the network definitely allowed us to ‘learn by doing.’"

“The contributions by all the firms has been amazing,” Fan said. “A lot of inventors said they had no idea how to tackle the patent process and the attorneys have made it easy--it would have been a daunting task for the inventors on their own. Instead of worrying about attorneys’ fees, they could direct their energy toward building their business.”

“This past spring, we put together a patent practicum course taught by Andrew Serafini and Candice Decaire, two partners at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton,” Fan said. “UW Law students worked on patent projects under the supervision of experienced patent attorneys from Christensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness and Perkins Coie to earn law school credit and get practical experience.”

The network has been a win-win situation for both attorneys and inventors, Fan said.

“The attorneys have the opportunity to volunteer in a way that uses their expertise—and their work benefits individuals with exciting innovations who normally wouldn’t be able to get access to experienced patent attorneys.”