Opening Statements

The PTO offers a clinic to help law students obtain marketable skills

In a challenging legal job market, a burgeoning intellectual property law program run by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is giving law schools an opportunity to offer practical experience to their students and boost their resumés in a field where employment possibilities are strong.

The Law School Clinic Certification Pilot Program began in 2008 with six law schools and offered students a chance to do pro bono work on behalf of people seeking trademarks and patents. Some 28 law schools are now participating in the program, and more are asking how they can get involved, officials say.

Law schools also say that student interest in the intellectual property law clinics is so great that students are being turned away, says Will Covey, the PTO’s deputy general counsel for enrollment and discipline. “Some schools turn down half the students who apply,” he says.

Under the PTO program, students help prepare trademark and patent applications, counsel clients and respond to agency actions.

Jay Erstling, professor and director of the Intellectual Property Clinic at William Mitchell College of Law, which joined the program in 2008, says that the majority of students who have participated in the program call it “the very best part of their law school career because they are handling cases, they are meeting with clients, they are filing applications.

“They are responding to office actions. They are filing appeals briefs. They are doing everything.”

Erstling says the program also has helped students get jobs. “They have a lot to talk about when they are in job interviews. We have one employer who actually calls and says, ‘Tell me about your crop of clinic students.’ ”

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