To Patent and Serve

Posted September 27, 2021, 12:21PM
Rober Trowers, Music Lecturer, recently obtained a patent for an innovative mouthpiece he developed for use with brass instruments. Photo by Chioke Brown.

Behind every successful creative idea, invention or product is a lawyer working to obtain a patent or trademark. Some of the greatest ideas and items are protected by intellectual property law in some way.

Intellectual property – often referred to as IP – is work or inventions created by an individual or organization, including but not limited to digital content, symbols, names, slogans, music and logos. IP law protects and enforces owners’ rights to their creative work.

NCCU’s Intellectual Property Clinic is a nucleus for aspiring intellectual property lawyers and patent attorneys. Housed within the School of Law, it provides no-cost counsel for clients with patent or trademark issues. The IP Clinic is unique within the University of North Carolina System.

Specializing in this area of the law can catapult a legal career into exciting directions, with practitioners working in the music industry, business, manufacturing, art and many other fields, said law professor and IP Clinic Director Mimi Afshar.

“Our mission is not only to help individuals obtain patents, but also to bridge the gap between the IP sector and minorities seeking careers in IP law,” Afshar said.

The American Bar Association National Lawyer Population Survey reports only 15% of lawyers are minorities, with a much smaller percentage specializing in IP. The 2017 American Intellectual Property Law Association Report of the Economic Survey indicates 1.8% of IP attorneys are African American, 2.5% are Hispanic or Latino, and less than 0.5% are Native American.

Clients who come to the clinic are served by upper-level law students who work under the supervision of licensed patent and trademark attorneys within the School of Law.

The IP clinic is certified by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to assist with patent and trademark preparation, filing and prosecution. Its reach extends beyond North Carolina, with clients in states including Florida, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and California.

The clinic offers its free legal counseling and services to those without access to high-quality intellectual property legal services, which may include innovators, entrepreneurs, small businesses—number of patents obtained to date by clinic  and early-stage start-up companies. The N.C. Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Program (LEAP), a program of the N.C. Bar Association, also
refers clients.

    The fusion of practical clinics with traditional classroom lessons gives NCCU Law School students an opportunity to put legal theory into practice and gain first-hand experience in problem-solving, client management, drafting briefs and critical thinking skills.

Thanks to the efforts of law students, NCCU Department of Music lecturer Robert Trowers recently obtained a patent for an innovative mouthpiece he developed for use with brass instruments.

Trowers’ invention is an elliptical-shaped mouthpiece with characteristics of the traditional V-cup and bowl-shaped mouthpieces. His invention produces a distinct sound when playing a brass instrument. The patent was accepted by the Patent and Trademark Office on the first submission.

“My experience with the IP Clinic was very efficacious,” Trowers said. “I don’t know when I would’ve been able to pursue this process without the services provided by the IP Clinic.”

Trowers plans to market his invention in stores as an option for musical artists in the near future.

Two more patents are expected to this year, joining the dozens of others obtained by the IP Clinic, Ashfar said. 

While students working in the clinic gain satisfaction by ensuring that creators get full credit for their inventions, they also understand the long-term value in pursing an IP law specialty.

The American Intellectual Property Law Association recently reported the average median annual salary for IP lawyers as $130,000, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment rates for all lawyers will increase by about 8% over the next five years.

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