Jessica M. Karmasek Nov. 19, 2014, 2:25pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is working to provide pro bono representation to inventors in all 50 states.

Michelle Lee, deputy under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and deputy director of the PTO, said in a blog post Tuesday that the office is “making great strides” in expanding its Patent Pro Bono Program.


“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,” she wrote.


Pro se or pro bono support was one of the executive actions the Obama Administration announced in February. The actions aim to protect businesses from so-called “patent trolls,” strengthen the country’s patent system and foster innovation.


The administration said increased pro bono support will enable more entrepreneurs to more easily navigate the patent application process and get their goods to market faster.


“Because patents fuel our economy and stimulate job creation, the USPTO wants to make sure the patent system is accessible to all,” Lee wrote. “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.


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 the 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 him or her.


Currently, 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, Lee said the office has formed a Pro Bono Team that is working with non-profit organizations and local bar associations to devise strategies for providing the needed assistance.


Lee said as of Tuesday the State Bar of Michigan’s Intellectual Property Law Association and Pro Bono Initiative opened its own Patent Pro Bono Program at a PTO satellite office in Detroit.


Pointing to Minnesota, she said the program is seeing success.


Fourteen Minnesota inventors have secured patent protection for their inventions thanks to the program, which was set up in the state in 2011. Additionally, 35 other state inventors, represented by volunteer attorneys, have patent applications pending before the PTO.


“These results are testimony to the utility and need for the Patent Pro Bono Program,” Lee wrote.


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