Parna Mehrbani enjoys the free flow of ideas in intellectual property law
Published in 2012 Oregon Rising Stars magazine
on July 10, 2012
Updated on August 21, 2012
Parna Mehrbani has always had a creative bent. Growing up, she played the piano. In college, she took to writing poetry and prose. Now she loves arts and crafts … and practicing intellectual property law.
“I get this sort of fundamental pressure between protecting creative rights and allowing for the free flow of creative ideas,” she says. “That fundamental push and pull of IP law. I think it comes from having an appreciation of the creative process. I think it partially comes from being a consumer in the world every day of your life.”
After undergraduate school, she worked for the University of Illinois’ Environmental Council, where she heard about the environmental law program at Lewis & Clark Law School. “A lot of the draw of [law] for me was the advocacy aspect,” she says. “But also the research and writing. … And then the idea that there was not always an answer to be found. So [you’re] using the results of your research to present a persuasive position.”
But she ended up in a different practice area.
“I had this romanticized idea of what environmental law was,” explains Mehrbani, who moved to Portland from Chicago to attend Lewis & Clark Law School, returning home for a summer to work at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an advocacy organization. “The cases that I was involved with when I was there were huge and took many years to resolve, and a lot of the times they were on regulatory issues as opposed to the more sexy environmental issues. The regulatory nature was not as interesting to me as I thought it would be. It felt very far away for me, like I couldn’t touch it.”
As an IP shareholder at Lane Powell, Mehrbani can reach into her cabinet and closet at home and grab her clients’ products. Her roster includes apparel companies and a large natural-foods and beverage manufacturer.
Mehrbani interned at Lane Powell, then landed a job there as an associate after graduation. When the firm’s IP leaders approached her, she says, “My first reaction was that I didn’t think I could do IP because I didn’t have a science background. Lo and behold, that only applies to patent prosecution.”
Mehrbani now manages Lane Powell’s trademark practice, which covers federal, state and international clearance registration and prosecution. She fusses over the legal issues so the “creatives,” as she calls some of her clients, don’t have to. She works mostly with consumer-product manufacturers, and tries to ease that fundamental tension: “We get a fair amount of push-back, especially from marketing departments of big companies, because they want to do creative things, and we’re telling them you have to do it this way to protect your brand. But it’s fun because you’re sharing ideas back and forth. I get to work with the client on the front end of developing a new product or preparing a new seasonal catalog. They send you a list of potential trademarks and you’re clearing [them]: ‘Is there any risk in calling our product this name?’”
Mehrbani was born in England, where her Iranian parents attended college. They moved to Chicago when she was about 3, and she credits them with planting the seed for her career in law. “They were immigrants, so they had big plans for us,” she says.
Asked if intellectual property is becoming more of a challenge to protect, Mehrbani says, “It’s getting harder to the extent that you have to be more diligent. Because the Internet is such a big place.”
Everything with respect to the Internet is intellectual property, she says. “It’s fun because who the heck knows what’s going to happen? There are potential new laws; you’re trying to apply laws that were passed with no understanding of the Internet to this new forum. It’s challenging, but I like that aspect.”
Inside the courtroom is a more adversarial vibe, Mehrbani says: “There’s something about a company rallying around their own brand—a brand is really a company’s identity. And when that identity is at risk, people really rally to protect it.”
She has also won recognition for her pro bono efforts, including serving on the board of the Rock ’N’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland.
“It’s a self-esteem program for girls, and our medium is music,” she says. The girls play instruments, write songs and perform. “We teach them the power of their own voices and respecting other people’s voices,” Mehrbani says.
At the end of each camp, the girls do a rock performance. “What really hooked me,” Mehrbani says, “was the first show I went to: I was watching them play, and it was just amazing, the behavior and attitude of these kids. They were more outgoing than I felt like I’d seen in other kids of that age. And the way that the parents talk about how the camp changes their kids, it’s just really heartwarming.”