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Rutgers University Shows Its IP Assets, Thanks to Law Students

Because of the efforts of Rutgers School of Law–Newark students and the enthusiastic support of the university’s Office of Trademark Licensing and Office of the Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Rutgers became the first university to participate in the National Trademark Expo of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Rutgers students at USPTO
(L-r) Alix James ’13, Eric Ashbahian ’13 and Dana Broughton ’14 posed with the USPTO mascot T Markey at the 2012 National Trademark Expo.

The project to have Rutgers accepted as an exhibitor was led by Eric Ashbahian ’13 who, along with Dana L. Broughton ’14 and Karen Tonoyan ’14, interned last summer at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Ashbahian learned about the annual expo prior to his internship and, recognizing a great opportunity to showcase the university, applied on Rutgers’ behalf. Held on October 19 and 20, the event attracted more than 15,000 visitors to USPTO headquarters.

Ashbahian, Broughton and Alix James ’13, together with Marybeth Schmutz, who heads the Rutgers Office of Trademark Licensing, staffed the popular exhibit. The Scarlet Knight mascot also showed up to interact with visitors. Said Broughton: “Participation in the USPTO Trademark Expo was an excellent opportunity to interact with the general public and educate them about trademarks and Rutgers’ trademarks. I look forward to participating in the Expo next year.”

Among the criteria used by USPTO to evaluate exhibit applications are brand recognition among consumers and the ability of the proposed exhibit to enhance public understanding of the value of trademarks or intellectual property in the global marketplace. Ashbahian created posters with information about trademarks generally as well as some about the Rutgers name and usage. The posters covered such topics as the difference between TM, SM and R; obligations after a mark has been registered; protections under federal registration; and how Rutgers protects its mark from unwanted uses. Two posters created by the Office of Trademark Licensing displayed many of the university’s current trademarks.

RU table at USPTO expo
The Rutgers University exhibit at the National Trademark Expo.

The opportunity to educate hundreds of visitors about intellectual property issues – and to display logos and other examples of Rutgers’ impressive trademark portfolio – is one that Schmutz was delighted to have. It is her job to protect the many federal and state registrations that the university, over the course of its 246-year-old history, has obtained for trademarks in international classes ranging from educational services to turf grass to apparel.

Unlike Schmutz, a long-time licensing professional and former board member of the International Collegiate Licensing Association, Ashbahian and Broughton are recent IP enthusiasts.

Talented in math and intrigued by the possibilities presented by nanotechnology, Eric Ashbahian pursued a B.S. in ceramic and materials engineering at Rutgers University, where he was a Bloustein Scholar and received an author’s credit for a published paper titled “Maximizing d33 of a Non-Lead Piezoelectric.” After college he worked as an engineer for three years, first for one of the world’s largest steel and mining companies and then for the leading manufacturer of passenger rail cars in the U.S.

Ashbahian had been planning to get a master’s degree when, at his sister’s graduation from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, mention of Penn Law moved him to think instead for the first time about a J.D. A bit of research revealed that, with his engineering background, intellectual property “was a perfect area of law for me.” His Rutgers classes, together with internships at the USPTO, DC Comics, and the NJIT Office of Research and Development legal counsel’s office, have more than confirmed that insight.

Dana Broughton was even farther into a non-legal career when she first entertained the idea of law school. She began her undergraduate education at Clemson University as an education major with the hopes of teaching high school chemistry, a subject at which she excelled and enjoyed. Realizing that a chemistry degree would provide more career options, she switched majors in her sophomore year and secured an internship at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “During that internship,” she recalled, “I met several minorities with Ph.D.s in chemistry and biology that inspired me to pursue my Ph.D. in chemistry.”

Scarlet Knight
The Scarlet Knight mascot visited the expo.

Broughton earned her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of South Carolina where her dissertation topic was “Development of organic-probes for carbohydrate-lectin interactions to serve as biosensors for a plethora of disease states.” Her research was published in prominent scientific journals and presented at national scientific meetings. Still, as a graduate student and postdoctoral associate at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, she began to have second thoughts about a life in science. “I loved giving scientific talks, presentations and proposals, but I didn’t necessarily like being in the laboratory and conducting research.” Broughton looked into other careers in which she could use her chemistry background. “Patent Law stood out to me. I would be able to use the skills that I loved the most and still be tied to the big picture of science.”

Both Ashbahian and Broughton found their summer 2012 experience in the USPTO Patent Experience Externship Program very fulfilling. Broughton was assigned to a technical unit focused on biotechnology and organic chemistry. Working on RCE (requests for continued examination) patent applications, she learned much about the patent prosecution process.

Ashbahian finished the program with a ready answer for those who ask “Why in the world would you want to do that. It’s so boring!” when he describes an interest in a career in patent law. “After interning at the USPTO I now respond to everyone, ‘Yes, it is a lot of reading and tedious searching but the things you read and research are, in some cases, technologies that will change the way the world works.’”

Participation in the Rutgers Community Law Clinic (CLC) has also enhanced Ashbahian and Broughton’s interest in trademark and service mark law. The clinic is one of a select group of participants in the USPTO Law School Clinic Certification Pilot Program.

Under the supervision of Clinical Professor John R. Kettle III, who heads the CLC Intellectual Property Law Section, students are permitted to draft and file trademark applications, respond to office actions, and draft and file briefs or reply briefs in appeals to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Approximately one quarter of the more than 100 trademark and service mark applications filed by the clinic have been filed by students under the USPTO Pilot Program.

After two-days of networking at the trademark expo with others in the field and interacting with thousands of members of the public, Ashbahian and Broughton are more certain than ever of their career goals: for Ashbahian, a job as an in-house IP attorney and for Broughton, to work as a patent attorney.