Our Stories

Intellectual Property Protection for Small Business Celebrating Latino Culture

For most people, especially for those who take the L.A. buses, the time spent traveling to and from work is just “downtime.”  For Martha Barrios, president and CEO of Frijolitos, Inc., the time she spends on the bus is one of the most valuable and productive parts of her day.

It was on the bus, as she traveled to and from her temp jobs, that Barrios developed ideas for the “Frijolitos,” a line of toys designed with America’s Latino population in mind.  The inspiration later materialized into a possibility, and then into the reality that is Frijolitos, Inc., a family-owned and operated toy design company with big plans for expansion.

“I’m a mature woman, not ready to retire, and I found myself out of work,” said Barrios.  Her son suggested she start her own business, designing toys that would appeal to Spanish-speaking populations.  “Can’t we make toys based on Latino folklore that teach lessons, just like my abuelito used to do?” Barrios recalls her son asking.

She herself was enthusiastic about the idea.  “I always enjoyed sewing, and putting colors together,” she said.

Barrios, along with her son and daughter, have developed five different toy animals, with plans to design many more.  The name of each toy will describe the animal and also call to mind familiar aspects of Mexican culture.

“We wanted to put out something mainstream that would appeal to all populations, but give it that ethnic flair,” said Barrios.  The toys will be marketed in areas of Southern California with large Latino populations, and Barrios said the company hopes to target Latino populations in other regions eventually.

Barrios said that when she first began developing her company, she ran into a host of legal issues that threatened to delay or even halt the process completely.  When she first tried to trademark the company’s name, her team was concerned about possible challenges from other businesses.  In addition to this concern, Barrios found the trademark process itself to be time-consuming and difficult.  Her business needed legal help to get off the ground, but the expense seemed daunting.  Fortunately, Barrios and her company knew where to turn.

Barrios turned to Public Counsel, hoping to find a volunteer attorney to help her start her business.  The mission of Public Counsel’s Community Development Project is to help strengthen low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods by providing pro bono transactional legal assistance to nonprofit organizations that serve these neighborhoods, as well as to eligible microbusinesses whose work benefits low-income individuals or communities.  The Project maintains a network of over 1,000 volunteer attorneys specializing in business and transactional law.  The Project matches these attorneys with qualifying nonprofit organizations and microbusinesses requiring legal assistance.

Without Public Counsel and its network of volunteer attorneys, reflects Barrios, “I don’t know if the company would have existed or have gone this far.”