Public Service Remains the Ultimate Form of Giving Back

Robert O. Lindefjeld

©2014. Published in Landslide, Vol. 6, No. 6, July/August 2014, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

This year has been an active one for intellectual property in general and for the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law (ABA-IPL) in particular. In my final message as Section chair, I want to urge each of you who read this message to continue your ongoing commitment to remaining active in your respective communities on the local, state, and national level and to promote selfless public service. Public service is, and will likely remain, the highest form of giving that any individual can perform—and the concept of “public service” remains a broad one that can take many different forms.

I have been privileged to meet so many of the members of our profession through the years. Without fail, each of you has remained firmly committed to public service in areas where you believe you can be the most effective. To some, public service has meant something as simple as helping a friend or neighbor through a difficult situation. To others, public service has meant actively participating in a formalized legal pro bono program; for example, helping complete strangers find much-needed shelter, assisting people as they navigate through complicated government regulations, or helping families remain in their homes after a major financial setback. Others have expressed their commitment to public service by working for governmental or nonprofit entities at wages significantly lower than what the private marketplace might otherwise provide. And still others have decided to contribute outside the law entirely, either by supporting the initiatives of their affiliated religious institutions or by joining community-based social programs.

Your tireless commitment to public service is truly inspirational. Observing the diversity of your various activities has been rewarding for me personally and has encouraged me to find more opportunities for my own commitment to public service.

Like so many of you, many legal professionals express their commitment to public service by working tirelessly—for absolutely no monetary gain—on behalf of the American Bar Association to improve our legal system in general. As you will see in the highlights of our Section’s activities in this month’s issue [p. 7], we have been very active in this respect, and we are collectively proud of all of our accomplishments. But there is one particular area I would like to highlight here.

For some time, legal pro bono in the area of intellectual property has evaded many practitioners because of concerns about professional liability and time commitment. But all this changed in October 2013, when the American Bar Association, through its Section of Intellectual Property Law, became a founding member of the America Invents Act (AIA) Pro Bono Advisory Council. This seminal piece of legislation directs the USPTO Director to “work with and support intellectual property law associations across the country in the establishment of pro bono programs designed to assist financially under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses.” ABA-IPL Section representatives signed the charter formally establishing the Council, and, under the leadership of Pro Bono Committee Chair Amy Salmela who serves as the ABA appointed representative to the new Advisory Council, we will be actively supporting that effort in the years ahead. The AIA Pro Bono Advisory Council will provide support and guidance to existing IP pro bono programs throughout the country, and the Section is firmly committed to increasing its activity and cooperation in support of this noble effort.

In the coming year, our Section will be publishing a manual to help local leaders in the intellectual property field through the process of establishing a legal pro bono program serving underprivileged individuals in need of intellectual property services in your local community. We will also ensure space at our in person meetings and provide administrative support. Hopefully, in the coming years, and in concert with the USPTO and our other sister organizations, we will be in a position to expand our involvement on a national level. The initiative is admittedly a “work in progress,” but we remain enthusiastic about its future.

Practitioners like you will be the ones to implement this IP pro bono initiative. Therefore, I urge each of you to put your unique legal training to work and do what you can to help ensure that this initiative remains a success. To be a success, the program needs local volunteers, and your involvement can be as restrictive or expansive as your personal time permits. Involvement can range from either helping to promote the program by recruiting new volunteers to rolling up your sleeves and being an active representative for needy clients.

In the past few years, we have seen scores of decent people adversely affected by a stubbornly high unemployment rate in this country and weak economic growth. Recovery is not going to be quick, and the need for your continued commitment and service is not likely to go away anytime soon. Accordingly, when your local bar leaders call on you to step up and volunteer in support of this new pro bono initiative, please be sure to respond favorably and do what you can. Every level of support is desperately needed to ensure that this is a success.

I look forward to continuing to work with you in the coming years in what is probably the greatest profession on earth. Best wishes.

Robert O. Lindefjeld

Robert O. Lindefjeld is chair of the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law. He is general counsel and chief intellectual property counsel of Nantero Inc.