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Meeting the challenge: IPTLC helps startup distributing PPE

Friday, December 18, 2020

Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic steps up to help startup provide PPE for health care workers
 
By Diane Krieger
Students in USC Gould’s Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic (IPTLC) usually work for indie filmmakers, game designers and tech startups on issues involving fair use, defamation, trademarks and contracts. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinic advised Get Us PPE, a nonprofit startup based in Massachusetts that distributes donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals across the country.
 
With the PPE shortage crisis in April, IPTLC Director Jef Pearlman heard from a scientist friend based at Harvard Medical School that Get Us PPE was looking for free legal advice.
 
“Everyone wants to help,” Pearlman says of the decision to step outside the clinic’s comfort zone, “and we are no different.”
 
Students Gain Valuable Experience
 
Pearlman and his clinic students stepped in about a month after Get Us PPE launched. As of September, the startup had delivered 2.3 million PPE units, filling 16,000 unique requests from 13,000 sources. It also amassed one of the largest non-governmental databases of PPE shortages in the United States.
 
The nonprofit, founded by a coalition of tech and marketing professionals teamed with emergency room physicians based at Harvard, Brown and Oregon Health & Science universities, consolidated smaller efforts working in parallel across the country.
 
In the informal role of outside general counsel, Pearlman initially set up an executive board. Soon, he was riding herd over an array of private firms offering their pro bono services on a per-project basis. Pearlman brought the remaining work into IPTLC.
 
He put second-year law students Tiffany Li and Tyler Fergusson to work on registering a Get Us PPE trademark.
 
IPTLC summer intern and second-year Nicholas Connolly took on more work, drafting nondisclosure and data-sharing agreements, necessary to protect health care workers requesting PPE through the website from retaliation for publicly disclosing shortages in their hospitals. IPTLC also advised the nonprofit on liability risks for its volunteer delivery workers.
 
“One of the things I wanted students to get out of the experience was really seeing, as a lawyer, what a startup’s challenges are and how large organizations operate,” Pearlman says.
 
Pearlman pulled Connolly into Get Us PPE board meetings, partner negotiations and piecemeal pro bono work which included reviewing approximately 150 partner contracts.
 
“I thought it was fantastic to work with this really incredible up-and-coming nonprofit providing personal protective equipment to medical facilities,” says Connolly, a 2L student in the JD-MBA dual-degree track. “It felt good to be able to do something tangible in the face of this giant crisis, while getting lots of hands-on experience in the area I’m most interested in, which is both IP and corporate transactional law.”
 
Nonprofit Praises IPTLC’S Assistance
 
Get Us PPE’s administration director and executive board member Zach Peery, one of the group’s founders, appreciated clinic’s help. 
 
“We started very much as a grassroots effort. Pretty soon we realized we had to bring in stalwart professionals who knew how to grow an organization. The USC law clinic has been really critical to that growth, and we’re very grateful.”

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