Pro Bono - FAQ – Inventors - Other

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.  

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. 

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. 

Please see the USPTO’s Pro Bono web page for the most up to date lists of states participating in the patent pro bono program. New regional  Patent Pro Bono Program are being added frequently, so the website is the best source for up-to-date information. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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 $35,310 (3 times the poverty level) or an inventor with a family of four could have a gross household income of up to $72,900 (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: https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines

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.

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. 

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://fedcirbar.org /Pro-Bono-Scholarships/PTO-Pro-Bono/National-Clearinghouse-Application-Submission (link is external) 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." 

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

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

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

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.

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.