WASHINGTON—The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently released a report to Congress, as required by the Unleashing American Innovators Act of 2022 (the Act or UAIA), assessing the health and functionality of the patent pro bono programs. The study found that the patent pro bono programs are successfully expanding access to the patent system to financially underresourced independent inventors and small businesses, with more than $39.3 million donated by volunteer patent attorneys and non-attorney advocates (patent agents) from 2015-2022.
“This study builds on our reinvigorated work to bring more people in America into the innovation ecosystem by offering free legal counsel to aspiring innovators,” said Kathi Vidal, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. “It also builds on the work of this Administration to expand USPTO offerings and create new ones to open the doors wide to innovation and entrepreneurship across our great nation. We know that meeting people where they are through critical programs like our Patent Pro Bono Program is the key to creating jobs, fostering economic prosperity, and addressing societal challenges.”
Other highlights from the study include:
- Nearly doubling the pro bono budget. Under the direction of Director Vidal, the USPTO took the proactive step of doubling the budget for the program in 2023 from $680,000 to approximately $1.2 million, signaling the USPTO’s increased investment in the pro bono programs to strengthen American innovation.
- Strengthened awareness and promotion. Year-over-year increases in the number of individuals inquiring about the patent pro bono programs in the past few years, including a 6% jump from 2021-2022.
- Key participation by non-attorney advocates. Approximately 23% of patent pro bono application filings were filed by registered patent agents.
- Increased participation from historically underserved communities. From a survey of participants in the pro bono programs in 2022:
- Whereas 13% of all patented inventors are women, 43% of patent pro bono applicants self-identified as women (up from 41% in 2021).
- 35% self-identified as Black (up from 30% in 2021).
- 14% self-identified as Hispanic American.
- 7.9% self-identified as veterans.
- 5.7% self-identified as Asian American or Native Pacific Islander.
- 1.6% self-identified as Native Americans.
- Continued opportunity to increase the financial screening threshold. The primary condition restricting inventor participation is the financial screening requirement of the regional patent pro bono programs, and the USPTO is working with the programs, where practicable, to increase the threshold to a gross household income that is not more than 400% of the federal poverty line as set forth in the UAIA.
In addition to data captured from the patent pro bono programs since 2015, the study looked at comments solicited through two public listening sessions and written comments submitted via a Federal Register Notice. These comments provided important feedback on the patent pro bono programs and supported the information and recommendations in the study.
View the full report on the UAIA Study of the Patent Pro Bono Programs webpage.