Attention starving entrepreneurs, college students and all others with not much other than a great idea. As part of the recently enacted America Invents Act, the US Patent Office is developing a patent pro bono program. The US Patent Office, in conjunction with state bar associations around the country, will help pair qualified individuals with patent attorney volunteers who will assist in helping to obtain patent protection. Currently, at least part or all of 20 states have pro bono programs offering assistance, with more slated to begin operation within 2014 and 2015. The current pro bono programs are limited to residents of:
Alaska Arizona California Colorado Delaware District of Columbia Idaho Hawaii Louisiana Maryland Massachusetts Minnesota Nevada New York North Carolina Ohio Oregon Pennsylvania Texas Virginia Washington Wyoming
If you are a resident of one of the states is listed above, Pro-bono assistance is now available, to be considered and apply go to the Federal Circuit Bar Association National Clearing House.
If your resident state is not listed above please do not apply for assistance at this time. The North Carolina Bar Association has begun accepting applications. Go to the NCLEAP (North Carolina Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Program) page of the North Carolina Bar Association website.
To apply, the Federal Circuit website will ask for basic information about your invention, including a brief description, to help in the referral process. Should your application pass the first level of screening at the national clearinghouse, it will be forwarded to the appropriate regional program. All following correspondence will come from the regional program.
Acceptance into a state or regional pro bono program requires each potential pro bono client to be screened for certain criteria. Some of these criteria include:
1. Gross household income – region dependent, but most limited to 300% of the poverty levels
Example 1 - a single person could have an income of up to $34,470 (3 times the current single person poverty level of $11,490);
Example 2 - a family of 4 could have a gross income of up to $70,650 (3 times the current family of 4 poverty level of $23,550).
2. Knowledge of the patent system – demonstrated by having an application on file with the USPTO or by successfully completing the certificate training course. Many regional pro bono programs require successful completion of the certificate training to be considered for the program.
3. Having an invention, not merely an idea – to demonstrate that there is an invention one should be able to describe the invention so that someone could make and use the invention.
There may be additional requirements imposed by the state or local organization working with the US Patent Office. Once you have cleared these hurdles you will be put in touch with a local bar association and paired with a volunteer patent attorney who will help you to prepare, file, prosecute and hopefully obtain your patent.