Pro Bono Program

MESSAGE FROM GRANT CORBOY, Patent Pro Bono Team – Patent Pro Bono Programs Are Available in 47 States to Help Independent Inventors and Small Business File Patent Applications and Volunteer Attorneys are Needed

Pro bono legal work is important to the community at large because it ensures that individuals with limited financial means have access to legal professionals, who donate their services for free, in order to help them navigate the legal system.   Pro bono legal work historically has been available in areas such as divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosures, domestic violence, and landlord-tenant disputes.    However, pro bono legal assistance generally has not been available for patent matters.   That paradigm changed with the passage of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) in September of 2011.

The AIA specifically calls for the USPTO to “work with and support intellectual property organizations across the country in the establishment of pro bono programs designed to assist financially under resourced inventors and small businesses.”  Thus, the AIA provided the first impetus to establish pro bono services for patent prosecution, and the USPTO responded by commencing a Patent Pro Bono Program to bring legal help to under-resourced independent inventors and small business interested in securing a patent for their inventions.  

To bolster the USPTO’s initial efforts to make patent pro bono assistance possible, in February of 2014, the President issued an Executive Action calling for expansion of the Program to provide nationwide coverage.  To meet the mandate of nationwide coverage, the USPTO formed a Pro Bono Team.   The Team undertook to establish new pro bono programs where none previously existed and to expand existing ones. As a result of these efforts, the USPTO Pro Bono Team is pleased to announce that 47 states now have access to Patent Pro Bono Programs, with complete nationwide coverage not far behind.

The Patent Pro Bono Program is made up of multiple, independently operated regional patent pro bono programs.   Each regional patent pro bono program is run autonomously, independent from the USPTO.    A regional patent pro bono program is typically an intellectual property non-profit organization or a university with a referral service that can match volunteer patent attorneys with eligible independent inventors and small businesses.

Regional patent pro bono programs are responsible for screening inventors and small businesses for acceptance into the Program.  The screening criteria vary for each regional program based on the needs of the local community.  In general, the criteria can be broken down into the three categories:  (1) a household income below 300% of the Federal poverty level; (2) knowledge of the patent system, and (3) possession of an actual invention that can be described with sufficient specificity so that one of ordinary skill can make/use the invention.  

Independent inventors and small businesses interested in obtaining free legal representation must submit their information to their regional patent pro bono program to show that they satisfy the criteria.   For specific information regarding the requirements for each program, please visit the regional program covering your state by clicking on the link under the heading “Participating Patent Pro Bono Programs” (http://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/using-legal-services/pro-bono#heading-4). It is important to note that the patent application process will still involve additional costs, like filing fees, search fees, maintenance fees, administrative fees, that are to be borne by the clients. These additional costs are not covered by the volunteer attorneys offering pro bono assistance. Independent inventors and small businesses interested in seeking patent pro bono representation are encouraged to apply directly to their regional program or through the Federal Circuit Bar Association’s (FCBA) National Clearinghouse Portal.  Similarly, patent attorneys interested in volunteering their services are encouraged to fill out the volunteer forms located on the regional programs’ websites or on FCBA’s website.

In sum, Patent Pro Bono Programs not only make a real difference for independent inventors and small business, but also help bring new inventions to the marketplace.   I encourage you take the time to explore this website to learn more about them.