Patent Pro Bono Program expands and reaches underserved populations with free legal services

Main Blog Image
Deputy Director Brent discussed USPTO resources, including the Patent Pro Bono Program, in a fireside chat with Leshell Hatley

Deputy Director Brent discussed USPTO resources, including the Patent Pro Bono Program, in a fireside chat with Leshell Hatley, Executive Director, Uplift, Inc. at Morgan State University in Baltimore, during the USPTO's Black Innovation and Entrepreneurship program. (Photo by Jay Premack/USPTO)

Patent Pro Bono Program expands and reaches underserved populations with free legal services

4 min read

Over the past few months, I have been visiting cities across the country on a nationwide tour to share information about our Patent Pro Bono Program and other free and useful services for entrepreneurs. From Wake Forest University to Historically Black Colleges and Universities such as Morgan State, North Carolina A&T and Howard University, Director Vidal and I have been meeting and connecting with pro bono service providers, entrepreneurs, and students to discuss issues such as the value of intellectual property (IP) for small businesses, and bringing new entrepreneurs and inventors into the innovation ecosystem.

Entrepreneurs discussed how USPTO services like the Patent Pro Bono Program helped them grow their businesses and reach the marketplace. Volunteer legal counsel and clinic students expressed how meaningful it was to be part of the entrepreneurial journey. These programs are making a real and measurable impact.

Recently, we celebrated the 100th patent recipient in Minnesota who obtained assistance through LegalCORPS, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis and the first USPTO patent pro bono regional program. (Learn more in this Black Enterprise article and the Minnesota Star Tribune.) Soon after that great experience, I visited Penn State University to help launch the newest patent pro bono program. Penn State is doing some amazing work by combining their legal program with their entrepreneurial education program, thus giving inventors a chance to build a product and a business, together. I look forward to meeting with more of our regional programs in the future, and collaborating to find more ways to provide services.

Since the pro bono programs began collecting and sharing information in 2015, the Patent Pro Bono Program has provided more than 95,000 hours of free legal services to independent inventors and small businesses. That assistance has resulted in more than 2,000 patent application filings, amounting to millions of dollars in donated services since 2015. Last year, the Patent Pro Bono Program had more than 90 patent practitioners reporting 50 or more hours each of patent pro bono service to USPTO pro bono programs. In addition, more than 25 corporations and law firms contributed significant hours to one or more participating regional programs – a record number of organizations. These volunteers assisted with filing 220 patent applications with the USPTO in 2022.

We have seen year-over-year increases in the total number of applicants from underrepresented groups in the pro bono program. In 2022:

  • 43% of program applicants identified their gender as female, which is much higher than the proportion of female inventors named on U.S. patent applications (13%);
  • 35% of applicants identified as African American or Black;
  • 13.8% of applicants identified as Hispanic;
  • 7.9% identified as being a veteran;
  • 6.1% identified as either Asian, Pacific Islander, or Hawaiian Native, exceeding existing proportions in the U.S. population; and
  • 1.6% identify as American Indian or Alaska Native.
Infographic for Patent Pro Bono Program: 50 states have Patent Pro Bono services, 95,000+ hours donated, 2,000+ patent applications filed, 20 regional programs, 3,800+ inventors with patent practitioners

Those are real numbers, real results. Real people benefiting from resources and opportunity, which yields robust, inclusive innovation that makes our country stronger.

There is a consistent theme that runs through our USPTO pro bono programs – providing critical assistance to under-resourced inventors, serving as the bridge to an inclusive innovation economy. By expanding access to pro bono legal services, we can help more under-resourced and underrepresented innovators protect their ideas and bring them to impact. And with the recent passage of the Unleashing American Innovators Act (UAIA), we are poised to build upon these programs and expand their reach to provide more resources, services, and opportunities.

To that end, we encourage inventors and practitioners to participate in our upcoming listening sessions regarding our patent pro bono program (inventor session is June 5; practitioner session is June 7).  These sessions will help inform the study we are undertaking on pro bono IP services as part of the UAIA. It is important to hear from you so that we can find ways to improve the services of our regional programs so that they best serve those who use the services.

Director Kathi Vidal and Deputy Director Derrick Brent  sitting at a table in a lecture room filled with students

Director Kathi Vidal and Deputy Director Derrick Brent recently participated in a fireside chat at Howard University on intellectual property's role in equity and entrepreneurship. 

When we meet people where they are, we bring more people into the innovation ecosystem. That is one of our top priorities. Thank you to all who help make our pro bono programs a success. To entrepreneurs and inventors – please learn more about our programs, and the many ways that the USPTO can help you on your journey.

Engage with the Director and join the conversation on our social media channels.