Northeastern law clinic certified to register trademarks for entrepreneurs

The IP CO-LAB works closely with IDEA and other Mosaic organizations in the university’s entrepreneurship community. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Northeastern’s intellectual property law clinic has received a federal certification that will significantly enhance its ability to help the university’s entrepreneurial minds protect their brands and grow their businesses.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently granted the School of Law’s IP CO-LAB the ability, starting in August, to file federal trademark applications for its clients. The clinic serves many ventures within the university’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, but this certification will also allow the clinic to expand its work beyond campus to provide pro bono registration assistance to entrepreneurs across Massachusetts.

Led by students, under the guidance of faculty, the clinic provides a range of IP-related legal information and services to Northeastern inventors and ventures—work that includes producing memos and conducting research for clients on topics such as patent law and copyright and trade secret law. The USPTO certification adds a new dimension to the clinic’s impact on its clients, while also providing law students invaluable real-world experience drafting trademark applications and corresponding with the USPTO on their clients’ behalf.

“This is a huge opportunity for our law students, for Northeastern student entrepreneurs, and for the public,” said Mary Landergan, associate teaching professor and director of the IP CO-LAB. “We already provide research, analysis, and reports to inventors free of cost. With the addition of trademark registration services, the IP CO-LAB will be a full-service operation.”

Illustration by Greg Grinnell/Northeastern University

According to the USPTO, “a trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” A trademark differs from a copyright and a patent, in that each protects a different type of intellectual property. A trademark protects brand names and logos used on goods and services; a copyright protects an original artistic or literary work; and a patent protects an invention.

The focus of the clinic—whose faculty advisor is Susan Montgomery, executive professor of law and business—is to support innovation on campus and help students better understand and use intellectual property. To that end, students in the clinic develop learning modules and deliver presentations across the university’s colleges and disciplines in order to disseminate IP knowledge and make it accessible to students in entrepreneurship, product design, and capstone courses. The clinic also collaborates with the Center for Research Innovation, the student-run venture accelerator IDEA, and the Center for Entrepreneurial Education.

Alvin Benjamin Carter III knows full well the value this certification will bring to Northeastern law students and the university’s entrepreneurial community. The rising third-year law student has worked for the clinic and also served as its COO, through which he liaised with Mosaic—an alliance of student-led organizations that supports venture incubation at Northeastern.

“Trademarks are so important because it’s your brand and how you’re identified in the course of business,” said Carter, L’18. “It can be invaluable for entrepreneurs.”

What’s more, Carter said, this certification will allow the law clinic students to see a project to the end with a client. Until now, law students could only do some research and perhaps write a memo, but would then have to direct clients to an outside attorney to file the trademark application.

Carter also noted the professional skills and career opportunities law students can realize from drafting these applications as well as answering USPTO inquiries and communicating with trademark attorneys about the applications they have filed. “Your hireability skyrockets,” Carter said.

He is currently working on co-op as a summer associate at Brown Rudnick LLP in Boston, where he’s getting experience in many areas of the law, from intellectual property to bankruptcy.

“I’m learning a lot,” he said. “It’s been great trying new things. I’m pretty sure IP is what I want to do as a career, but it’s important to get exposed to a wide range of the law.”