So, you’re interested in the pro bono program,
but you’re not sure what it is or who can use it. Maybe you already know a little about
it but you want more information on how to qualify and take advantage of its services.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s face it: getting a patent is not cheap.
Even though the fees the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) charges are relatively
modest, the cost of hiring a patent attorney to properly write and prosecute a patent application
is the main barrier to getting a patent for many inventors and small businesses. The USPTO
knows this, and we want to help. After the America Invents Act passed in 2011,
the USPTO began working with intellectual property law associations across the country
to help them establish pro bono inventor assistance programs in their specific regions.
These pro bono programs are intended to provide free legal services to qualified applicants.
To qualify, there are a few requirements you must meet:
First, you must have an invention—not just an idea. One way to demonstrate this is to
create a description of your invention that is detailed enough to allow someone with reasonable
skills in that field of technology to build it. This is part of the patent application
process called “reduction to practice.” You also need some basic knowledge of the
patent system, which you can get through training modules on the USPTO website.
Next, it’s very helpful if you’ve completed a patent search to make sure nobody has already
patented an invention the same, or similar, to your own. In other words, your invention
must be novel and non-obvious. Finally, you’ll need to demonstrate that
you qualify based on financial need. How much is that? Currently, each program has varying
maximum household income levels that determine if you qualify.
Alright, got all that? Great. If you’re ready to apply for pro bono assistance, you
should begin the process by going to the Federal Circuit Bar Association website at w w w,
dot, f e d c I r b a r, dot, org. When you get there, select “PTO Pro Bono Program”
and then pro bono service request, which is under the Clearing House heading.
You can also get to the PTO Pro Bono Program page from the pro se slash pro bono page at
www, dot, uspto, dot, gov slash inventors. Now, we need to remind you that not everyone
who qualifies or applies for pro bono assistance will be selected for the program. Pro bono
assistance should not be squandered on obtaining patents with no commercial value. If your
invention does not meet certain standards, it could be rejected by the Pro Bono Program.
And just remember that each regional pro bono program is slightly different, so there may
be additional factors that affect your acceptance into a specific program.
The overarching goal of the pro bono assistance program is to make sure that no deserving
invention goes without patent protection because its inventor cannot afford legal assistance.
So, do your homework, educate yourself about patents, and be ready to be an active participant
in your patent application prosecution. And just remember, if you are selected for
pro bono assistance, you will still need to pay all fees required by the USPTO, including
any filing, prosecution, issue, or maintenance fees.