February 08, 2022

Patent Pro Bono Work Protects IP of Technology Aimed at Ending Cyberbullying

When most attorneys think of pro bono, they envision opportunities in areas such as family law, housing, litigation, or bankruptcy. Attorneys with a specialized transactional or business-focused practice may imagine there is no place for them in the pro bono world. However, there are many pro bono opportunities available for attorneys from transactional or more corporate-based practice areas. In this latest Pro Bono Spotlight, the ABA Center for Pro Bono spoke with two Fish & Richardson attorneys about their important and impactful pro bono patent work.  

Thomas Rozylowicz and Patrick Darno from Fish & Richardson discussed with the Center for Pro Bono Exchange their recent pro bono work on behalf of ReThink, a technology that detects and stops cyberbullying via software that recognizes an offensive message and prompts a user to reconsider sending the offensive message before hitting send. This groundbreaking initiative is now patented and used throughout the world—in large part thanks to the pro bono work of Tom, Patrick, and Fish & Richardson.

Tom and Patrick began representing Trisha Prabhu, the founder of ReThink, while she was still a middle school student. Trisha developed ReThink after she learned about the negative and tragic consequences of cyberbullying. ReThink’s patented technology detects offensive content and generates a pop-up message, urging the user to “rethink” before posting or sending that content. “She had the belief that people were engaged in cyberbullying because they didn’t objectively appreciate the impact it was having on people and the consequences,” says Fish & Richardson attorney Tom Rozylowicz. “If we interrupt the cycle and tap someone to say, this looks hateful, are you sure you want to say this, that would dramatically reduce the amount of cyberbullying.” According to research on ReThink, adolescents changed their minds and did not post the offensive content 93% of the time. “Trisha’s research shows that people are less likely to send a hurtful message if they have a chance to rethink it,” says Fish attorney Patrick Darno. “She took this rather negative field of cyberbullying and premised her company on the idea that people are inherently good and if they had a second to cool down and think about what they are doing, they won’t do it.”

Tom and Patrick, who are both in the patent group at Fish, began working with Trisha when she was applying for her first patent. Although it was a difficult case, Tom and Patrick secured the patent and continued to provide additional pro bono support to help Trisha secure additional patents and protect ReThink’s patented technology. To date, the USPTO ultimately awarded ReThink three utility patents, one design patent, and two trademarks. ReThink is now available in six languages and has reached 5.5 million students and 1,500 schools. “It’s great to see the importance and impact of these patents to Trisha that enable her to continue building her business. This work also shows the value and importance of the patent system. Here, one to three patents have literally helped shape the life trajectory and future business that she put in place with an idea to make the world better by stopping people from harassing others,” says Patrick. ReThink was featured on Shark Tank, in TED Talks, at the White House, and on numerous media outlets, and it has won numerous national and international awards.

“Working with someone so young in high school who is making the world a better place has been so rewarding. This work has also been a gateway to other types of pro bono work,” says Tom. “This was one of my first pro bono projects and it was easy because it aligned with what I was doing for my non-pro bono clients. With the confidence of having this pro bono experience behind me, I have been able to take on other types of cases, such as Afghan refugee work.”

Asked about their advice to other attorneys on doing pro bono, Tom replied, “Pro bono will improve your overall practice because you are able to work with people from different perspectives to solve problems. You should do pro bono for all the reasons we go to law school in the first place. It allows you to have an impact on others less fortunate. It’s a joy and a privilege to watch someone that you represented take on the world and see such an important technology get across the finish line.”

Thanks so much to Tom and Patrick for all your work and for sharing your insight on the many ways that attorneys can do pro bono to make a difference.