Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Tuesday Nov 18, 2014

Patent Pro Bono Program Expansion to Benefit Inventors Nationwide

Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Michelle K. Lee

Helping small businesses and independent inventors with limited resources is an important goal of the USPTO, and supports the Administration’s commitment to balance the playing field for all entrepreneurs looking to innovate. It also supports the White House executive actions issued to improve the patent system. One of those executive actions aims to expand coverage of the Patent Pro Bono Program to all 50 states, and I am pleased to announce that we are making great strides towards bringing pro bono assistance to inventors across the country.

Because patents fuel our economy and stimulate job creation, the USPTO wants to make sure the patent system is accessible to all. With this in mind, the USPTO works with intellectual property law associations and local bar associations across the country to help them establish pro bono inventor assistance programs in their specific regions. The Patent Pro Bono Program provides free legal assistance to under-resourced inventors and small businesses interested in securing patent protection for their inventions. By working closely with these associations, we are spreading the word about the importance of intellectual property and USPTO services, and in turn supporting the innovation economy.

Currently, patent pro bono assistance is available in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. To establish coverage in the remaining states, the USPTO has formed a Pro Bono Team which is working with non-profit organizations and local bar associations to devise strategies for providing the needed assistance. Please join us in this worthy effort and help support American innovation by contacting the Pro Bono Team at PatentProBono@uspto.gov. The USPTO values assistance from stakeholders and partners in these important efforts, because strengthening our patent system is something we will accomplish together.

Let me tell you a little more about how the Patent Pro Bono Program works. Independent inventors may apply to receive pro bono attorney representation in one of two ways – either through the National Clearinghouse administered by the Federal Circuit Bar Association or by contacting the regional program in their state. Program requirements vary, but generally, they require that: (1) the inventor reside in a participating state; (2) earn less than a gross household income limit; (3) demonstrate minimal knowledge of the patent system; and (4) have an invention to patent (as opposed to a mere idea). If an inventor meets these requirements, and any other ones set by the regional program, then the regional program will attempt to match the inventor with a local volunteer patent attorney to represent the inventor.

I want to acknowledge the success that the Patent Pro Bono Program has had thus far. Minnesota was the first state to setup a Patent Pro Bono Program in 2011, and since then, Minnesota volunteer attorneys have helped 14 Minnesota inventors secure patent protection for their inventions. Additionally, 35 other Minnesota inventors, represented by Minnesota volunteer attorneys, have patent applications pending before the USPTO. These results are testimony to the utility and need for the Patent Pro Bono Program.

I’m excited to announce that on November 18, 2014, the State Bar of Michigan’s Intellectual Property Law Association and Pro Bono Initiative kicked off the Michigan Patent Pro Bono Program at the Elijah J. McCoy USPTO Satellite Office in Detroit. Stay tuned as we expand the Patent Pro Bono Program to more states.

The Patent Pro Bono Program serves a vital role in the marketplace of innovation. Visit our website for more information on how to volunteer to represent an under-resourced inventor.

Comments:

I applaud the Deputy Under Secretary for committing the Administration to the goal "to balance the playing field for all entrepreneurs looking to innovate." I wish actions matched words. When I started practice 40 years ago, the filing fee was $35, issue fees were low, no maintenance fees, applications not published, patents more respected, and enforcement simpler and much less expensive. In short a small inventor had a chance. Today, you surely know that patents are mostly a "rich man's" tool. 14 pro bono patents out of over 8,000,000 is not even a pittance, but I applaud the start. I recall being instructed in law school “As a patent attorney, you must charge a reasonable fee or you'll go broke or get fired." Law firms have billable hour quotas, so pro bono cases get forced on reluctant junior associates. Frankly, the Government must fund this to get decent participation and decent quality. Right now it's an unfunded mandate you seek to impose on patent attorneys.

Posted by Bruce Burdick on November 19, 2014 at 02:39 PM EST #

This program should provise a contested service to the following: http://www.uspto.gov/aia_implementation/20120113-ippr_report.pdf

Posted by partoftheartrealitytv on November 19, 2014 at 11:04 PM EST #

I am a USPTO agent based in Kansas. I am interested in doing some probono work. But as I am not a member of federal bar ,I am not able to offer my services. Is the any thing I can do to get USPTO probono work established in Kansas.

Posted by Ramasamy Rangan on December 18, 2014 at 05:42 PM EST #

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