Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
New Pilot Program to Provide Pro-Bono Legal Assistance to Independent Inventors
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos
On June 8, it was my pleasure to participate in the kick-off of the Minnesota Pilot Pro-bono Inventor Assistance Program. The USPTO has worked with a committee of attorneys and a non-profit legal organization, LegalCORPS, to develop a pro-bono program to assist financially needy, independent inventors and small businesses in the Minnesota area. The Inventor Assistance Program is designed to provide IP legal services to individuals and businesses that otherwise may be unable to afford solid patent protection. With this pilot program, no qualifying independent inventor’s idea will perish for lack of access to competent IP counsel, and we expect examiners will receive better quality applications that they can examine more readily and effectively.
The Minnesota Pilot is the first of its kind in the US and perhaps globally, and we hope it’s a model we can grow. I envision many cities and regions and states across the country having similar programs within the next 5 years. There are already people lining up to learn about the Minnesota Pilot and we are actively talking with representatives from other cities hoping to replicate the LegalCORPS model.
The Minneapolis Pilot will ask inventors to put in some preparatory effort before they enter the program. Each participant will complete a training program on intellectual property and to conduct a patent search to determine if their idea is new. The USPTO’s website will host training modules on our independent inventor page.
An inventor can perform a search online using the USPTO website along with other online search engines, or they may visit a Patent and Trademark Depository Library (a list of them can be found on the USPTO website).
The Minnesota Pilot requires the filing of at least a provisional patent application to enroll. The program also limits participation to certain income levels, and requires participants to pay a small charge for administrative costs. Once these requirements are met, the inventor will be matched with an attorney who will provide legal assistance.
It is exciting and encouraging to see a project like the one in Minneapolis moved forward with such strong support. Not only has the IP bar made this a reality, but many pillars of the local business community have enthusiastically joined in with both financial and legal support. Jim Patterson of Patterson Thuente, Candee Goodman of Lindquist & Vennum, Michael Vitt of LegalCORPS, and their teams deserve congratulations and thanks for their leadership and action in getting this program off the ground.