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Pro Bono

Sterne Kessler’s pro bono practice aims to help empower disenfranchised and impoverished communities to promote and protect their intellectual property assets.

In March 2012, Sterne Kessler launched the intellectual property and human rights pro bono practice under the vision and leadership of Director Jorge A. Goldstein, Ph.D. This practice was the first of its kind as it singularly focused on the interplay of intellectual property principles and human rights.

Our pro bono practice aims to help empower disenfranchised and impoverished communities seeking to promote and protect their intellectual property assets by integrating legal concepts from the areas of IP law with economic, social and cultural human rights. To protect these rights, our practice:

  • Improves fair access to patent rights for technological developments in impoverished areas of the world
  • Patents and then leverages indigenous knowledge, such as in the use of rainforest plants or creative agricultural techniques
  • Uses other IP rights, such as trademarks or licenses, to assist disenfranchised groups in developing viable income streams
  • In developing IP based natural genetic resources, works closely under the guidelines of the Convention for Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing for indigenous communities


  • 2015: Recognized as the winner of the Financial Times' Most Innovative North American Lawyers 2015 award in the category of "Innovation in a Social Responsibility Project," with a special commendation to director and pro bono practice leader Jorge A. Goldstein.
  • 2012 and 2013: The pro bono practice was recognized by The National Law Journal in the publications "Intellectual Property Hot List."

Representative Matters

Through Sterne Kessler's pro bono program, the firm has assisted many deserving organizations and underserved communities — both locally and internationally.

The follow is a list of representative matters our team has supported:

  • Legal Aid Justice Center – succeeded in a pro bono petition for habeas corpus to free our detained client, an unaccompanied minor from Guatemala, and reunite him with his uncle in another state.
  • Union for Ethical BioTrade - helped develop IP policy for our client UEBT, an organization that promotes the conservation of biodiversity through ethical sourcing practices
  • A member of the Monacan Tribe of Virginia - prepared and filed patent applications on novel feeding and growing techniques useful in the hydroponic industry
  • Ecoflora Cares - prepared and prosecuted several applications on the use of a blue colored rainforest fruit from Colombia as a source of edible colorants for the food industry
  • Independent Inventors Conference - provided volunteer inventor assistance through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) sponsored program
  • Discovery Creek Children's Museum of Washington - secured trademark protection
  • Operation Second Chance - secured trademark protection
  • National Working Group on Maca - protecting indigenous Peruvians from biopiracy

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