This impact story is part of a new series to celebrate the extraordinary pro bono projects undertaken by legal teams to support NGOs and social enterprises with the support of TrustLaw. All projects mentioned in this series are nominated for this year’s TrustLaw Awards. Find out more.
Across the world, nine out of ten people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. As our world advances, industrialisation and urbanisation have spurred economic growth, but often with damaging effect to the air quality. Even before the emergence of COVID-19, World Health Organization (WHO) data showed that breathing polluted air contributed to seven million premature deaths each year. In light of the ongoing pandemic, clean air becomes paramount to maintaining good health.
While solving air pollution is challenging, there are opportunities to ensure we breathe cleaner air. TrustLaw member Smart Air, a certified B* corporation that reinvests 100 per cent of its profits, has committed to helping people breathe better through their low-cost air purifier. The founders of Smart Air invented their own air purifier in China in 2013 when they could not find affordable ones in the market. Starting with a small market in China, today they have scaled their operations and are supplying air purifiers in more than 10 countries.
It is often expensive and complicated for social enterprises to navigate legal compliances and regulations. Therefore, Smart Air turned to TrustLaw for support when expanding its mission to bring clean air to people in other countries.
In 2021, Smart Air was connected with four law firms - DLA Piper, Baker Botts LLP, Weerawong, Chinnavat & Partners Ltd and SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan – across six countries to help it register the trademark of its brand and logo. This ensured its intellectual property rights are protected, allowing Smart Air’s invention to be marketed in more countries.
“One of the amazing things with the TrustLaw platform is the legal support offered around the world. An example is trademarking the name ‘Smart Air’ and avoiding any potential conflicts when entering into new markets,” said Paddy Robertson, founder and CEO of Smart Air.
He continued: “Without TrustLaw, we may still be a social enterprise solving China’s air pollution only. Now, we are a social enterprise focusing on solving the world’s air pollution problem of pollen, the additional COVID-19 in recent years, and other pollutants. We are an international platform now, and a big part of which is thanks to TrustLaw.”
For Smart Air, addressing all aspects from manufacturing to supply needs is equally important. As it partners with local distributors to make its air purifiers accessible to new markets, Smart Air also needed to have the right contracts in place to facilitate its expansion. After being connected to lawyers in China and the US through TrustLaw for a distributor contract and a manufacturing agreement, Smart Air has now been using them to engage with partners in more countries.
The pro bono projects with Smart Air have not only powered their mission forward in the past two years but has also inspired the lawyers who supported their expansion efforts.
Speaking about her experience, Patricia B. Paz-Jacoba, a Partner in SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan, said: “When the Smart Air project came up through TrustLaw, I jumped at the chance because I was familiar with the assistance needed … Pro bono work provides me with a sense of self-fulfilment and makes me feel re-committed to the practice of law, which spills over to my billable matters.
“It is a great reminder that we practice law to help people. In particular with the Smart Air project, their vision resonated with me, especially in the time of the pandemic when everyone has become more conscious of the air they breathe.”
Reking Chen, Partner of IP and Technology practice from DLA Piper in the Beijing office shared a similar view. “Air quality is a core element of sustainable element, and a sustainable future is a key focus for DLA. Therefore, we were delighted to build this multi-jurisdictional partnership with Smart Air and support them in tackling this crucial issue that affects all of society,” he said.
*Certified B corporations are companies verified by B Lab – a London-based non-profit network working to transform the global economy to benefit all people, communities and the planet – after they meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.