Remarks by USPTO Director Kathi Vidal at the PTAB Pro Bono Fireside Chat

Remarks Prepared for Kathi Vidal

Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and

Director of the USPTO

PTAB Pro Bono Boardside Chat

June 9, 2022


Thank you for your warm introduction Lead Judge Ahmed. Thank you also to patent attorney Grant Corboy, Lead Judge Stacey White, and Deputy Chief Judge Mark Thurmon, for joining us this afternoon.

We are all extremely excited about the Patent, PTAB, and TTAB Pro Bono Programs. I intend to support these remarkable initiatives in any way that I can. I would also like to personally thank all you who have made our Pro Bono Programs such a success — from the attorneys and judges who have volunteered many hours, to those behind the scenes administering the many personal connections needed to effectively run the programs.

I also want to thank everyone tuning in this afternoon for the Boardside Chat. These webinars offer the IP community the opportunity to get to know our staff, and keep abreast of our operations. Today’s Chat showcases our Pro Bono Programs. Expanding pro bono services is one of my key priorities, and is a key priority of the Biden-Harris Administration.

I have spent most of the past two weeks on the road engaged in listening sessions with local USPTO staff and our stakeholders in California, Texas, Colorado, and Massachusetts. At each stop, we have discussed the importance of pro bono services to our nation’s aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs. Pro bono services ensure that financially under-resourced inventors have access to the innovation ecosystem. It is imperative that many more people — from every region of the country and from a much greater diversity of backgrounds — feel empowered to control their destiny, and make a positive impact by engaging in our nation’s premier system of intellectual property protection.

We know that increasing access to the IP system spurs innovation, creates jobs, and improves the welfare of our nation’s citizens, families, and local communities. I am happy to report that we are reaching communities with historically low patent participation rates. Last year for the first time ever, we surveyed our Pro Bono users and found that: 30% identified as African American or Black; 14% identified as Hispanic; 5.6% identified as Asian or Pacific Islander; and 1.5% identified as Native American.

Even though only 13% of all inventors named on U.S. patents are women, 41% of those who received assistance in the Patent Pro Bono Program identified themselves as being female. Our survey reveals that we are reaching a wide demographic of inventors. In other words, thanks to our legal volunteers in the patent community, the program is successfully impacting underserved IP communities.

Since this is the first year we have collected demographic data, we look forward to seeing if these trends continue. The Patent Pro Bono Program has already matched more than 3,400 inventors and small businesses with patent practitioners. These volunteers have assisted in the filing of almost 2,000 patent applications in total. In 2021 alone, our regional Patent Pro Bono Programs helped 2,467 applicants requesting services; 527 applicants were matched with practitioners; 13,700 hours were donated by volunteers, there were 252 patent applications filed with the USPTO. Of those, 64 were provisional; 166 were non-provisional; and 22 were design patent applications.

Our recently launched PTAB Pro Bono program is also off to a terrific start. And we are excited about our collaboration with the PTAB Bar Association. The program was announced by Chief Judge Scott Boalick at the PTAB Bar Association Annual Meeting this past March 24th. Our aim is to level the playing field so that a lack of financial resources is not a barrier for those engaged in PTAB proceedings. The program will begin with ex parte appeals, and then later expand to AIA trials. It will initially serve solo inventors, and later expand to inventor groups, and small businesses. The PTAB Bar Association will administer the program, and act as a national clearinghouse for lawyers and applicants. The USPTO will provide support, such as training and promotion. Volunteer practitioners must be from law firms and be members of the PTAB Bar Association. The program will later expand to non-members, solo practitioners, and corporate counsel.

The PTAB Pro Bono Program is a much-needed extension of the Patent Pro Bono Program. By covering ex parte appeals before PTAB from the onset, an inventor may now secure free counsel for the entire patenting process. As of a few weeks ago, we had about three dozen volunteers, of which 28 have been approved to help pro-bono applicants.

On the Trademark side of our shop, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's Pro Bono Clearinghouse Program recognizes organizations that coordinate free legal services to members of the public in proceedings before the Board. These include financially under-resourced individuals, small-to-medium-sized enterprises, not-for-profit, and non-profit or charitable organizations that have small operating budgets.

I want to thank the International Trademark Association for serving as a clearinghouse, and for helping to facilitate the program. Deputy TTAB Chief Judge Mark Thurmon is going to share additional information about the TTAB Pro Bono Clearinghouse Program, so I’ll conclude my remarks here with what I routinely refer to as an “ask.” Please, help us spread the word about all of these IP Pro Bono Programs. We encourage you to promote them far and wide. We also need many more volunteers to help individuals who have good ideas, but lack the resources to pursue them. Your civic engagement will do wonders to help our country.

At the USPTO, we are invested in these programs because there is a crucial need for a new era of innovation, and for all of us to unite in helping every potential innovator in our country bring their innovation to impact. We can help make those dreams become reality and, in the process, turbocharge access to the American innovation system for everyone. Thank you, and I look forward to the discussion.