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What is Patents for Humanity?

Patents for Humanity is the United States Patent & Trademark Office's (USPTO) awards competition recognizing innovators who use game-changing technology to meet global humanitarian challenges.  The program provides business incentives for reaching those in need: winners receive an acceleration certificate to expedite select proceedings at the USPTO, as well as public recognition of their work.  The awards showcase how patent holders with vision are pioneering innovative ways to provide affordable, scalable, and sustainable solutions for the less fortunate.

US Navy Corpsman
U.S. Navy Corpsman examines a Haitian girl at a medical clinic.

Businesses and others are finding unique and creative ways to reach underserved markets.  Their stories show that humanitarian engagement is compatible with business interests and strong patent rights, and that companies can effectively contribute to global good while maintaining commercial markets.

Patents for Humanity submissions are evaluated on the effectiveness of their technology at addressing a humanitarian issue, the contributions made by applicants to increase use of their technology among the impoverished, and the impact those contributions have made to improve lives.  The program is open to all types of patent holders, applicants, and licensees. 

Details of the annual program were published in the Federal Register on Apr 3, 2014. Applications for 2015; will be accepted from July 1 to Dec 4.

Selection Criteria

Participating patent owners or licensees submit applications describing how they've used their patented technology or products to address humanitarian challenges for the less fortunate. Applications compete in five categories of global challenges:

  • Medicine - any medical-related technology such as medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, or medical devices
  • Nutrition - technologies which improve nutrition such as higher yield crops, more nutritious food sources, food preservation, storage, or preparation
  • Sanitation - improving lives by addressing environmental factors such as clean water, waste treatment, air pollution, and toxic substances
  • Household Energy - technologies providing power to energy-poor homes and communities for household needs like lighting, cooking, and heating
  • Living Standards - technologies that raise living standards to empower people to escape poverty, such as literacy, education, communications, information delivery, access to markets, and microfinance

Applications will be judged by one of the following sets criteria, depending on how their technology benefits the less fortunate.

Humanitarian Use is for those applying eligible technologies to positively impact a humanitarian issue, focusing on demonstrable real-world improvements:

  1. Subject Matter - the applicant's technology, which is claimed in a U.S. utility patent in force at the time or a pending U.S. utility patent application, effectively addresses a recognized humanitarian issue.
  2. Target Population - the applicant's actions target an impoverished population affected by the humanitarian issue.
  3. Contribution - the applicant took meaningful actions to make the technology more available for humanitarian uses. This only includes actions taken by the applicant.
  4. Impact - the applicant's contributions have significantly advanced deployment of the technology to benefit the target population. This includes downstream actions by third parties building on the applicant's contributions.

Humanitarian Research is for increasing the availability of patented technologies to other researchers for conducting research with a humanitarian purpose, particularly areas lacking commercial application:

  1. Subject matter - the applicant's technology, which is claimed in a U.S. utility patent in force at the time or a pending U.S. utility patent application, effectively supports research by others, e.g., as a tool or input.
  2. Neglected Field - the research by others clearly targets a humanitarian issue in an area lacking significant commercial application.
  3. Contribution - the applicant took meaningful actions to make the technology more available for research by others in the neglected field. This only includes actions taken by the applicant.
  4. Impact - the research by others has a high potential for significant impact on the neglected field. This includes downstream actions by third parties using the applicant's contributions.


Qualified judges from outside PTO will review and score the applications. USPTO will then forward the top-scoring applications to reviewers from participating Federal agencies to recommend award recipients.

Award Types

Two types of awards will be made: Patents for Humanity Awards and honorable mentions.

The Patents for Humanity Award is the top award for applicants best representing the Patents for Humanity principles. Patents for Humanity Award recipients from 2015 will receive public recognition at an award ceremony sponsored by the USPTO. They will also receive a certificate to accelerate certain matters before the USPTO: a patent application, ex parte reexam, or an ex parte appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. Inter partes matters and other post-grant proceedings may not be accelerated at this time.

Honorable mentions from 2015 will receive accelerated examination of one patent application and a featured writeup on the USPTO website. A portion of honorable mentions may be awarded for the best up and coming technologies.

The USPTO expects to award up to ten Patents for Humanity Awards and a similar number of honorable mentions in 2015. The exact number of awards will vary depending on the number and quality of applications received. See the 2014 Federal Register Notice for more details on awards.


A pilot conducted in 2012-2013 gave ten awards and six honorable mentions to businesses, universities, and non-profits using patented technology to aid the less fortunate. 

In early 2014, the Administration announced the renewal of Patents for Humanity as an annual program.  Award winners were announced in April 2015.