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In Inca folk medicine, the maca tuber has been used for ages as a natural Viagra. So when a New Jersey company in 1999 snagged the first in a series of U.S. patents related to maca’s qualities as an aphrodisiac, a coalition of public and private Peruvian organizations cried foul. Now, Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox managing partner Jorge Goldstein has taken on pro bono representation of the coalition, the Working Group on Maca. At issue: whether the patents misappropriate indigenous know-how and close off the U.S. market to maca exports. Goldstein landed the assignment through the newly formed Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors, or PIIPA, an international nonprofit founded by D.C.-based Venable partner Michael Gollin. It’s the first case brought under PIIPA’s auspices in the United States. Though Goldstein is still in the final stages of examining the patents, he says the Working Group on Maca now has a couple of legal options: attempt to revoke existing patents through re-examination at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or add an inventor to the patent � a method in which Goldstein says a tribe or shaman that provided traditional knowledge could share patent ownership with the company. Gollin says Goldstein was a natural fit for the case because “he was the only bilingual biopatent attorney of his caliber that I know.” Goldstein, born in Buenos Aires, is utilizing both his language and biopatent skills in the case. With the Working Group on Maca, he has collected a plethora of literature on the root, lepidium meyenii, which is grown in the Andes and sold in the marketplaces of Lima. Maca can be cooked like potatoes and eaten as a side dish by adults. According to folk medicine, maca can also stimulate fertility � curing sexually dysfunctional men and women. Much of the maca-related literature and documents had not been translated from Spanish and was unknown to the PTO. The existence of such material, known as prior art, could provide grounds to invalidate the patent. The PTO awarded South Hackensack, N.J.-based PureWorld Botanicals four patents on different uses of the root, including remedies for sexual dysfunction, as well as methods of maca preparation. Several patents are pending, Goldstein says. Dr. Qunyi Zheng of PureWorld Botanicals could not be reached for comment. Beyond the maca case, Goldstein says he hopes other IP lawyers will get involved with PIIPA “in the interest of worldwide fairness.” “What we’re trying to do is make sure no one gets exploited,” Goldstein says. “There is a wide world of pro bono work, if we sort of look beyond our national boundaries.” PIIPA matches lawyers and clients through referrals. The organization plans to work in the areas of health care, agriculture, biodiversity, environmental protection, traditional knowledge, scientific research, and technology. “[Intellectual property] is incredibly crucial to development, so you need access to the experts to deal with it, and you need to deal with it to have a fair stake in the economy,” Venable’s Gollin says. Although Gollin launched PIIPA in 2002 and has already appointed an international advisory committee, recruited lawyer volunteers, and received grant money to expand, he says he has merely set the foundation of what PIIPA will ultimately become. If things go as planned, thousands of IP lawyers like Goldstein will create a worldwide corps committed to providing free legal counsel and to leveling the IP playing field between the developed and developing worlds. Among contributors to the group are Venable and Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. PIIPA was also recently awarded a $35,000 International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups grant through the National Institutes of Health that will help fund programs in developing countries including Madagascar, Samoa, and Papua New Guinea. The United Kingdom Department for International Development has also pledged to match donations to PIIPA, up to 150,000 pounds (about $250,000) a year for the next three years. Perhaps because pro bono opportunities are limited since the nation’s indigent do not often need IP help, Gollin says IP law lacks the traditional commitment found in other practice areas. That’s why his plan is ambitious. “There’s a prejudice against pro bono and that’s embarrassing,” says Gollin. “That’s going to have to change.” Many firms use their pro bono programs to train junior attorneys. IP firms and groups, by the same token, could use PIIPA to train their young lawyers, Gollin says. He recalls that as a second-year associate at Kenyon & Kenyon, he created a pro bono policy because none existed at the time. “Since there aren’t opportunities, the room for improvement is vast,” he says. Life, Liberty, and Estate. New Orleans resident John Thompson has been the lucky recipient of lawyerly good will. Again. After 18 years in prison, Thompson was freed in May, thanks to the efforts of a team of lawyers from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Philadelphia who found evidence to exonerate him of murder. Now, Thompson and his wife inhabit an 1,100-square-foot home in New Orleans partly paid for and built by lawyers. The Rockville, Md.-based American College of Real Estate Lawyers, a national consortium of 850 members, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year by donating $25,000 to the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. Citigroup Foundation matched its funds to build Thompson a home. While at its annual meeting in New Orleans on Oct. 24 and 25, more than 100 people from the college helped build the home. The house was dedicated and completed just before Christmas. Among the building team was Venable D.C. partner Philip Horowitz, Piper Rudnick D.C. partner Jay Epstien, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice D.C. partner John Hagner, and Linowes and Blocher Bethesda, Md., partner Roger Winston. “This was, by far, the most ambitious undertaking [the college] has done,” says Horowitz. “It was a terrific experience.” Talk to Me. In the first-ever complaint under Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a cell phone maker has agreed to redesign a phone after a blind woman complained she couldn’t use many of its features. On Dec. 18, Alexandria, Va., resident Bonnie O’Day and phone manufacturer Audiovox announced they had reached an agreement after months of litigation before the Federal Communications Commission. Spiegel & McDiarmid represented O’Day pro bono. The exact terms of the settlement are confidential. However, Audiovox did not admit to any wrongdoing and has agreed to some of O’Day’s requested improvements in its 9900 series that will hit stores early next year. The phone has special “voice guidance” features that audibly alerts the user of outgoing and incoming calls and roaming and battery status. Spiegel & McDiarmid partners Scott Strauss and James Horwood and associate Allison Driver worked on behalf of O’Day. Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky partners Robert Aldrich and Albert Kramer represented Audiovox. Both Audiovox and Verizon Wireless were listed in the original complaint, later broken into separate cases by the FCC. Strauss says negotiations continue with Verizon, the carrier of O’Day’s original cell phone. “I am very pleased with the settlement. I think we have moved a long way toward making cellular telephones accessible and usable for blind and low-vision individuals,” O’Day says. Radio Shack. A pro bono team from Hogan & Hartson and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs recently filed suit against Radio Shack, claiming that architectural barriers in its D.C. metro stores bar the patronage of disabled customers. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Dec. 18, the suit claims such barriers violate both the Americans With Disabilities Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act. Lawyers’ Committee attorney E. Elaine Gardner and Hogan partner Robert Duncan and associates Adam Levin, Benjamin Olson, and Ryan Shandrick are working on the case on behalf of plaintiff Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington. The two named individual plaintiffs are both lawyers � Levine Blaszak Block & Boothby associate Stephen Rosen and Selene Dalton-Kumins of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s ADA Programs Office. “This is not about punishing Radio Shack and punishing corporate America,” says Levin. “It’s giving Radio Shack the opportunity to reverse policies of discrimination.” The Disability Rights Council surveyed 49 company-owned Radio Shack stores in a 10-mile radius of Dupont Circle and found that all of them had “discriminatory policies, practices, and/or barriers.” The suit seeks injunctive relief and unspecified monetary damages. Plaintiff Rosen is also seeking money damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress after he was unable to enter a Bethesda Radio Shack on Dec. 31, 2002, with his wheelchair, and the store’s employees refused to help. Radio Shack spokesman Charles Hodges declined comment on the pending litigation.

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