Shortly after it opened the doors of its Utah-based offices, Lowenstein Sandler’s Patent Counseling & Prosecution team sought an appropriate vehicle through which they could give back to the community. Frequently ranked as a leading law firm in intellectual property, patent, and trademark work by such prestigious organizations as Juristat, IAM Patent 1000, Chambers USA, and IPWatchdog, the firm wanted to offer the same superior legal services it provides to Fortune 500 companies in the pharmaceutical, life sciences, and technology industries to the inventors of tomorrow: the scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs working on the next big break-through in technology, medicine, infrastructure, or household goods who might not have access to the resources they need to help change the world.
From its founding, Lowenstein Sandler has been committed to advancing the public interest and serving communities in need. Its strong pro bono program and other forms of civic and philanthropic engagement have focused for decades on addressing significant social problems and giving meaningful assistance to low-income and other marginalized people, along with the organizations that advocate for and support them.
Partner Kevin Grange had pioneered the opening of the Utah office in 2015, and was instrumental in then forming a relationship with Mi Casa Resource Center®, a job training center with the mission of educating, supporting, and training youth and adults on their path to economic success.
Grange realized that Mi Casa shared many of Lowenstein’s core values, and could use support in advancing the potential of all people to achieve their educational, professional, and entrepreneurial goals.
Lowenstein began accepting pro bono patent cases through Mi Casa Resource Center’s ProBoPat. Mi Casa had launched this program in response to the 2011 America Invents Act, which encourages the USPTO to “work with and support ... the establishment of pro bono programs designed to assist financially under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses.”
The experience in and knowledge of intellectual property and patent law that Lowenstein lawyers provided to blue-chip and iconic tech clients around the world proved invaluable to startups and under-resourced inventors as well. Grange says: “ProBoPat provided the perfect vehicle for matching our talents and desire to help with the needs of low income entrepreneurs in the community, whose lack of resources might otherwise prevent them from bringing their innovations to life.”
Grange’s instinct proved prescient; since 2017, his team has received yearly recognition from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for their work with ProBoPat. Over the years, Lowenstein attorneys have consulted with many inventors across the Mountain West through ProBoPat, performing prior art searches and preparing a wide variety of utility and design patent applications. Every lawyer in the Utah office participates in the program, and the team has prepared and filed over 25 patent applications for low-income inventors to date. This work is in addition to preparing and filing dozens of patent applications pro bono since 2013 work in connection with California Lawyers for the Arts.
The firm has assisted with patent applications for such inventions as a hybrid heat engine, an outdoor collapsible convection oven, a device to enable remote canine detection of illegal substances in vehicles, and ground control targets for use in aerial surveying. This work has also given fostered many longstanding relationships with such rising stars as Bryan Stringham, a PhD student at Brigham Young University recently profiled by Mi Casa’s Resource Center as one of ProBoPat’s “success stories.”
Sam Noel, counsel in the firm’s Tech Group, remembers: “We first met Bryan in 2018, when we helped him prepare a non-provisional patent application for his solution to problems with water hand pumps in remote locations, such as those in rural parts of Africa.” Noel recalls Stringham’s passion for providing access to safe water; the patent application states that hundreds of millions of people across the globe live without access to safe water, with women and children disproportionately affected; over 2.2% of global deaths are a result of unsafe water sources; and “conventional gathering of water from shallow water sources is prone to contamination and pollution.” Noel says: “Bryan believed that a specially designed device for hand pumps would avoid the water contamination and water pollution resulting from conventional systems. We wanted to help him make that design a reality.”
Lowenstein’s relationship with Stringham did not stop there. In March 2020, as a graduate student and father living in a small apartment during the pandemic, Stringham wanted to get toys off the floor helping kids and families to bond without creating clutter. He came up with the idea for MagTrax, a marble run track that uses magnetic track pieces of 26 different varieties to let creators of all ages – from young children to adults – build their own marble runs on walls and refrigerators.
Senior counsel Nathan O. Greene helped Stringham prepare a provisional patent application for the MagTrax system. By November, 2020, Stringham’s idea had come to fruition: he was offering screen-free, creative, problem-solving entertainment to families who had been stuck inside for months. The young inventor hand-delivered the last ten MagTrax kit orders that year to expectant families two days before Christmas. The connectors for the track pieces are 3D-printed to include embedded magnets that are not only safe for young children (the magnets won’t fall out), but durable and capable of being attached to the track pieces and to each other in myriad of configurations on a metallic surface.
Almost two years since his eureka moment, Stringham’s company has grown significantly. In 2021, Greene worked with Lowenstein law clerk Hunter Kehoe to prepare the non-provisional patent application for Stringham. Greene says that, “Although Bryan’s technical know-how is very sophisticated, his education track meant that he didn’t have the cash flow needed to properly protect his innovations while also founding a new company to sell his product.”
Stringham credits much of his success to the support he received from Lowenstein and the ProBoPat partnership, without which he could never have been able to afford the appropriate intellectual property advice and protections he needed for his company to expand. In a recent communication with Lowenstein, Stringham said: “Thank you again to you and your team for your help on this. You’ve facilitated an IP protection process that likely wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and will hopefully prove very helpful in the future for me and MagTrax. I hope to work with you in the future also.”
“Partnerships such as the one between Lowenstein and ProBoPat help low income inventors like Bryan overcome the high costs of patent protection, which often create barriers for inventors who lack financial backing,” says Noel. “It’s gratifying to play a small role in developing products that can really make a positive difference in how people live.”
Frances Williams, Senior Director of Pathways at Mi Casa Resource Center says: “We believe that this is the first of many success stories for Bryan. We are proud to provide support for inventors, allowing them the opportunity to contribute to their communities as employers and long-term business owners. … We will continue to foster an even playing field for entrepreneurs, because no great idea should be held back by a lack of resources.”
The team at Lowenstein is proud to have contributed to the burgeoning success of Stringham and many other gifted inventors through its pro bono work. “By mentoring these individuals and guiding them through the patent process, we help them bring potentially life-saving inventions to people around the world,” says Grange. “Or, in the case of MagTrax, fun and educational ways to bring families together!”