Khanjan Mehta, then Director of the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) Program of Penn State’s College of Engineering, engaged the Clinic on its first two projects, dissemination of greenhouse technology in sub-Saharan Africa, and a kiosk system for pre-primary health care in Kenya.
Over several semesters and iterations, HESE students developed a greenhouse design that could be built with locally available materials in rural Africa, by two people, in two days, for less than $200. The greenhouse offered a great boost in food production for a family and commodities to sell. The HESE team also designed a strategy for a Kenyan entrepreneur to market greenhouse kits and to train would-be independent contractors to erect the greenhouses around the country.
The Clinic, in consultation with the University’s Office of Technology Management, assessed intellectual property rights in the greenhouse design and marketing strategies. HESE identified a Kenyan entrepreneur interested in pursuing the project and, in the summer of 2012, two JD students and the director accompanied the HESE team to Kenya. There, they drafted a complex license agreement between Penn State and the entrepreneur, discussed and counseled our “client” (the HESE director and students) on the terms of the contract, and participated in negotiating the agreement with the entrepreneur.
Mashavu, another HESE project, aimed to utilize community health workers in Kenya to be liaisons for pre-primary medical care in rural/underserved communities. The Clinic investigated the potential legal and liability risks, both under practice of medicine and employment acts. Their research, analysis, and client counseling ultimately informed deeper collaboration with a local charity that served as the employer. The Clinic drafted employment contracts for use with nurses and community health workers in central and southern Kenya.
The Clinic collaborated with an Ethiopian agribusiness, NutrAfrica, on several projects, involving both due diligence and contract drafting. NutrAfrica sought to export food products to the United States and other countries with large diaspora populations. The Clinic researched and reported on U.S. import issues and on food regulations and their evolution under the Food Safety Modernization Act. The Clinic drafted contracts from local (flour milling agreement) to global in scope (model distributorship agreement for use in multiple countries).
This project included research on the intellectual property protection of eragrostis tef (a grain from which teff flour is made) and products containing teff, both under European and U.S. patent law, and under genetic resources law (the International Convention on Biological Diversity and Ethiopia’s Access to Genetic Resources and Community Knowledge, and Community Rights Proclamation).
Another NutrAfrica project supplanted international money transfer companies with “remittance by injera” (injera is the Ethiopian sourdough pancake ubiquitous in Ethiopian cuisine). In lieu of sending remittances by Western Union (et. al), the Ethiopian diaspora in the U.S. (and elsewhere) could contract with NutrAfrica for delivery of staple foods to their loved ones in Ethiopia. This project achieved many ends: avoiding money transfer charges, ensuring that money sent was not squandered, contributing to local Ethiopian economies (by providing manufacturing, delivery, and support jobs), and encouraging profits to be used by NutrAfrica to develop Ethiopian capacity for modern food production. The Clinic researched click-through contracts and contracts of adhesion, then drafted a remittance contract, with special attention to language for lay-persons, issues of refundability, interruption of service, automatic renewal, and jurisdiction.
Dr. Benjamin Fredrick, Director of the Global Health Center at Penn State’s Hershey College of Medicine, leads the school’s Global Health Scholars Program, which includes activities in Peru, Ecuador, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. A recent law in Ecuador criminalized medical malpractice and Dr. Fredrick was concerned with how that would affect the practice of medicine – and foreign humanitarian medicine providers in particular – in Ecuador. The Clinic researched, wrote, and translated a paper to give Dr. Fredrick the best information possible with which to assess and plan for future projects in Ecuador.
A professor of the Colorado School of Mines (“Mines”), intended to do research involving “trust circles” among women in Honduras as part of the Seeking Community Project. He needed to know 1) if there were any Honduran laws he needed to be aware of and comply with, 2) whether portions of the project would be considered a “human subject research” for the purposes of the National Institutes of Health Regulations (45 C.F.R. § 46) and Ethical Guidelines, and 3) if so, was it exempt from Institutional Review Board (IRB) review, or could it be expedited. As Mines did not maintain its own IRB, it would have to go through an external review process. The Clinic carried out a thorough analysis and provided the professor with a comprehensive memorandum for delivery to the Office of the Provost for leadership’s consideration.
In 2011, the Rural Economic Development Clinic had helped two Turkish immigrants navigate contract negotiations and drafting for their assumption of debt and restaurant space in downtown State College. Subsequently, their successful small business applied for registration of its trademark.
Publication of the registration notice drew a contest from a 15-state, nearly 300-restaurant franchise cum trademark troll. The troll asserted that the applicant’s name was similar (they both shared a geographic place-name in their business names) and that they both served “sandwiches,” French fries, and tea, thus confusing consumers. The troll demanded payment and certain concessions from our local entrepreneurs. The Clinic represented its business before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.