Howrey

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Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
15
Howrey (49)
98.7
137.1
60.2

 

In 2001, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Felix Kramer founded the Palo Alto-based nonprofit The California Cars Initiative, Inc.—CalCars for short—to develop and promote highly fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. But in early 2007, Kramer discovered that he had more than skeptical automakers to contend with: A manufacturer of car users' manuals, Calcar, Inc., and its affiliate American Calcar, Inc., were planning to sue CalCars for trademark infringement. The case came to the attention of Howrey partner William Rooklidge—a car enthusiast himself—through a friend. Rooklidge and Am Law Pro Bono 100Howrey partner Robert Ghajar volunteered to represent Kramer and CalCars pro bono. "That motion would be very expensive and time-consuming to defend against, whereas this small nonprofit should be devoting its time and money to plug-in hybrids," Rooklidge says. "To me, that's just not right."

The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction against CalCars, which Howrey successfully opposed by arguing that the two sides catered to different audiences and offered different services. While Calcar sold manuals to automakers, CalCars focused on developing new hybrid technology and advocating it for use in the auto industry. Besides, the Howrey team argued, both parties had been simultaneously using their respective names for over five years with no problem. Calcar, claiming the two names were likely to be confused, pointed to the similarity of the two sides' Internet domain names, and argued that consumers could confuse the two and react to CalCars's political message before even reaching Calcar's Web site.

After both sides filed motions for summary judgment early last year, federal judge Andrew Guilford of the Central District of California ruled in CalCars's favor, concluding that the two entities were not likely to be confused. He noted: "It is unlikely that a reasonable consumer would assume that a group espousing a political message is related to a company specializing in car manuals." Though Calcar and American Calcar are appealing the ruling, Ghajar says that the decision, if it stands, will mean that Kramer won't have to sacrifice the reputation associated with CalCars's name. Instead, Ghajar says, he'll be free to "focus on his mission."

—Vivian Yee | July 1, 2009

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