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Pro Bono (Free Legal Representation)

two figures assisting in moving a lightbulbInventors

Are you an inventor or small business who has limited resources and needs help applying for a patent on an invention? If so, you may be eligible to receive pro bono (“for free”) attorney representation through the Nationwide Pro Bono Program.

Please view the following video for more information.

 

You can download the video here. The transcript is available here.


Attorneys

Are you an attorney who is interested in providing pro bono services for eligible inventors? If so, please complete this interest form provided by the Federal Circuit Bar Association National Clearinghouse. Alternatively, attorneys may volunteer by applying directly with the regional Patent Pro Bono Program in the state in which they practice.


 

News and Announcements

  • The Michigan program is set to open November 18, 2014 with a launch at the Detroit USPTO regional office.

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Why have Pro Bono Programs now?

The Pro Bono Program is an outcome of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) which encouraged the USPTO to "work with and support intellectual property law associations across the country in the establishment of pro bono programs designed to assist financially under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses." It is one the Obama Administration's seven Executive Actions for the USPTO to assist innovators by expanding the pro bono program to cover all 50 states.

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Requirements for Pro Bono Assistance

The eligibility requirements vary for each program.

A table of the participating programs appears below. The number of participating programs is likely to grow in time. If you do not see the state where you reside listed in the table of participating programs, please check back again soon.

In general, there are three basic requirements:

  • Income below a certain threshold;
  • Knowledge of the patent system; and
  • Possession of an actual invention (not just an idea).

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Participating Patent Pro Bono Programs

Some states are covered by a Pro Bono regional hub, which services multiple states. By clicking on the link below for your state, you will be directed to the program that covers you.

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Maximum Household Income

You must earn less than the regional program’s income limitation.

Examples (how to compute a 300% poverty level for a family income):

  • Example 1 - a single person could have an income of up to $34,470 (3 times the current single person poverty level of $11,490)
  • Example 2 - a family of 4 could have a gross income of up to $70,650 (3 times the current family of 4 poverty level of $23,550)

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Knowledge of the Patent System

There are two ways to demonstrate your knowledge of the patent system:

  • Have a current provisional or nonprovisional patent application on file with the USPTO
    NOTE: Some states require that a provisional patent application be filed as a condition of requesting assistance,
    ---OR---
  • Successfully complete the on-line Certificate Training Course
    NOTE: Many regional pro bono programs require successful completion of the certificate training to be considered for the program.

Complete the >> Certificate Training Course

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You must have an Invention - not just an idea!

Before you can obtain a pro bono attorney, you will have to have an actual invention, not merely an idea. To demonstrate an invention, you should be able to describe the invention so that someone else could actually make and use the invention.

CAUTION: Do not publicly disclose your invention prior to filing a patent application or at least a provisional application for a patent. To do so could make it prior art against itself, resulting in an inability to secure a patent.

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How to Apply for Pro Bono Assistance

There are two ways to apply for pro bono assistance. First, you may apply through an online portal known as the National Clearinghouse, which is operated by the Federal Circuit Bar Association. The National Clearinghouse portal will require you to provide contact information and answer a few questions to determine eligibility for the program. It also will require you to provide basic information about your invention, including a brief description, to help in the referral process. Should your application pass the first level of screening at the National Clearinghouse, it will be forwarded to the appropriate regional program. All following correspondence will generally come from the regional Pro Bono Program. Visit the Federal Circuit Bar Association’s National Clearinghouse to apply for pro bono assistance.

Alternatively, you may apply directly with the regional Patent Pro Bono Program in the state where you live. You may access the regional program’s website by clicking on the link, above, for your state.

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Questions and Answers

Topic 1: Operation of Patent Pro Bono Program

Q: What is the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: The USPTO began working with local bar associations and non-profit groups in 2011 as a result of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act to establish programs to provide free legal assistance to under-resourced inventors interested in securing patent protection for their inventions. The USPTO named this effort the "Patent Pro Bono Program." Under this initiative, many regional Patent Pro Bono programs have developed across the United States.

Q: Who administers the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: At the local level, each regional Patent Pro Bono Program is administered by a non-profit entity that is responsible for the screening and referral of patent matters to licensed patent attorneys. At the national level, the Pro Bono Advisory Council, a committee of well-known patent practitioners who agreed to provide support and guidance to the Patent Pro Bono Program, facilitates various aspects of the Program.

Q: What role does the National Clearinghouse play in the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: The National Clearinghouse, administered by the Federal Circuit Bar Association, is one way in which inventors can request assistance from a regional Patent Pro Bono Program. The National Clearinghouse functions as an intermediary to pass along an inventor’s information to the regional program where the inventor is located.

Q: What role do the regional Patent Pro Bono Programs play in the process?

A: The regional Patent Pro Bono Programs are at the very center of the Program. Each regional Patent Pro Bono Program sets the criteria for an inventor’s participation in the program. The regional programs perform the intake function, screen potential clients, screen potential volunteer patent attorneys, and attempt to match the client with the volunteer attorney. The regional programs also maintain statistics relating to the Patent Pro Bono Program. Many programs may offer educational outreach relating to the patent process.

Q: What role does the USPTO play in the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: The USPTO’s Pro Bono Coordinator works with intellectual property law associations and other non-profits to establish regional Patent Pro Bono Programs for financially under-resourced inventors and small businesses. The USPTO is helping to expand coverage of the Patent Pro Bono Program to all 50 states. The USPTO, however, does not manage or operate the day-to-day functioning of the various programs.

Q: Is there a limit on the number of inventors who may obtain pro bono representation under the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: No, there is no limit on how many inventors may participate in the Patent Pro Bono Program. However, for each inventor accepted into a regional program, there must be a volunteer patent attorney willing to represent the client in order for the program to be successful.

 

Topic 2: State Coverage in the Patent Pro Bono Program

Q: What states are covered by the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: Please see the USPTO’s pro bono webpage at http://www.uspto.gov/patents/init_events/pro_bono.jsp under the heading “Participating Patent Pro Bono Programs.” New regional Patent Pro Bono Programs are being added frequently, so the website is the best source for up-to-date information.

Q: If an inventor resides in a state not covered by the Patent Pro Bono Program, can the inventor obtain attorney representation through another state that is covered by the Program?

A: An inventor must be qualified to participate in the regional Patent Pro Bono Program to which he or she applies. If an inventor lives in a state which is not currently covered by a program, but meets the qualifications to request assistance from a regional Patent Pro Bono Program in a different state (e.g., the inventor lives and works in different states), then the person may apply to the program.

 

Topic 3: Services Available Under the Patent Pro Bono Program

Q: What types of patent services are available to inventors under the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: In general, the Patent Pro Bono Program provides services related to the filing and prosecution of patent applications. Specifically, services can include the filing of a non-provisional application and/or the prosecution of a non-provisional application up through, and to, allowance or final rejection. The scope of services provided under the Patent Pro Bono Program is designed to be flexible, accommodating the needs of both the volunteer attorney and the inventor.

Q: Can an inventor obtain patent litigation help under the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: No, support through the Patent Pro Bono Program is limited to patent application filing and prosecution (i.e., the efforts to obtain a patent). Post-patenting matters, including litigation, are not covered under the Program.

Q: Can an inventor obtain help with trademark or copyright matters under the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: No, inventor assistance under the Patent Pro Bono Program is limited to patents. However, many of the regional programs provide additional legal services, such as copyright, trademark, contracts, etc. For specific information regarding the legal service offered in your area, contact your regional Patent Pro Bono Program.

Q: Can an inventor obtain help with licensing matters under the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: No, inventor assistance under the Patent Pro Bono Program is generally limited to obtaining patent protection. However, some of the regional Patent Pro Bono Programs may provide additional legal services, such as information about licensing agreements. For specific information regarding the legal services offered in your area, contact your regional Patent Pro Bono Program.

 

Topic 4: How to Apply for Pro Bono Attorney Assistance

Q: What are the requirements that an inventor must meet to participate in the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: In general, there are three requirements for participation in the Patent Pro Bono Program:

1) income below a certain threshold amount;

2) knowledge of the patent system; and

3) an invention that you are able to describe so that someone could make and use the invention.

Because specific requirements vary based upon the regional Patent Pro Bono Program, you should contact your regional Patent Pro Bono Program directly.

Q: How is the income limit determined?

A: Each regional Patent Pro Bono Program screens for its income limit. Generally, the income limit is determined by the inventor’s gross household income. For instance, if the limit is 300% of the federal poverty level, an inventor who is a single person could have gross household income of up to $34,460 (3 times the poverty level) or an inventor with a family of four could have a gross household income of up to $70,650 (3 times the poverty level for a family of four). For specific information on the income limit for your region, contact your regional Patent Pro Bono Program. The federal poverty guidelines can be found at: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/14poverty.cfm.

Q: How can an inventor demonstrate knowledge of the patent system?

A: An inventor may demonstrate knowledge of the patent system in one of two ways. An inventor can either have an application on file with the USPTO, or alternatively, can successfully complete the certificate training course located at the following link: http://www.uspto.gov/video/cbt/certpck/index.htm. For specific information regarding knowledge requirements, contact your regional Patent Pro Bono Program.

Q: Is an inventor required to be a U.S. citizen to be eligible to participate in the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: An inventor can participate in the Patent Pro Bono Program if he/she is a U.S. citizen or a legal U.S. resident.

Q: How can an inventor apply to receive pro bono representation under the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: An inventor may utilize one of two methods to apply for patent pro bono representation. First, an inventor can sign up at the Federal Circuit’s National Clearinghouse portal at http://www.fedcirbar.org/olc/pub/LVFC/cpages/misc/pto.jsp by filling out the Pro Bono Service Request Form. Alternatively, an inventor can apply directly to his/her regional Patent Pro Bono Program. A link to each regional Patent Pro Bono Program is found under the heading of “Participating Patent Pro Bono Programs.”.

Q: Where can an inventor check on the status of his/her application to the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: An inventor can check the status of his/her application for requesting assistance by contacting the regional Patent Pro Bono Program to which the inventor applied.

Q: If an inventor does not meet the eligibility requirements for the Patent Pro Bono Program, what other assistance is available?

A: The regional Pro Bono Programs may be able to provide the inventor with a list of other legal resources that are available.

Q: If an inventor does not meet the eligibility requirements for the Patent Pro Bono Program at a certain point in time and the inventor's circumstances later change, can the inventor re-apply?

A: Yes, an inventor may re-apply to be reconsidered for the regional Patent Pro Bono Program if the inventor’s circumstances change.

 

Topic 5: How to Volunteer as an Attorney

Q: Who should an attorney contact to volunteer legal services for the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: The Patent Pro Bono Program has two methods for an attorney to volunteer their services. An attorney can sign up at the Federal Circuit’s National Clearinghouse portal at http://www.fedcirbar.org/olc/pub/LVFC/cpages/misc/pto.jsp by filling out the Regional Volunteer Attorney Submission Form. Alternatively, an attorney can volunteer their legal services by applying directly to their regional Patent Pro Bono Program. A link to each regional Patent Pro Bono Program can be found under the heading of “Participating Patent Pro Bono Programs.”

Q: What responsibilities will attorney volunteers have in representing pro bono clients as part of the Patent Pro Bono Program?

A: The scope of services provided under the regional Patent Pro Bono Program is designed to be flexible, accommodating the needs of both the volunteer attorney and the inventor. An engagement letter between the volunteer attorney and the client is strongly recommended. This engagement letter will generally define the scope of the representation. In general, services are focused on preparation, filing, and prosecution of a patent application before the USPTO.

Q: How are volunteer attorneys paired with eligible inventors for representation?

A: Volunteer patent attorneys will be matched with inventors based on the field of the invention and the volunteer attorney’s expertise in, or knowledge of, that field, taking into account conflicts issues.

Q: Does the Patent Pro Bono Program provide malpractice insurance for volunteer attorneys?

A: No, the Patent Pro Bono Program does not provide malpractice insurance for volunteer attorneys. However, some regional Patent Pro Bono Programs do provide separate malpractice insurance. For specific information regarding malpractice insurance, contact your regional Patent Pro Bono Program.

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Contact Us

If you would like to assist in establishing a Patent Pro Bono Program in a state that is not currently covered, please email PatentProBono@uspto.gov. Alternatively, if you are covered by a regional hub and are interested in formulating a Patent Pro Bono program specific to your state, please email us.

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Other Assistance

The following list of resources have been selected to help you better understand what form(s) of intellectual property (IP) protection you may need and how best to go about preparing yourself for the process of obtaining appropriate IP protection.

Even if you do not qualify for pro bono assistance, there are other forms of help available.

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Last Modified: 10/23/2014 3:02:01 PM