Calling all Patent Practitioners – Patent Pro Bono Program

Jennifer, a white woman with white hair, wears a peach blouse, pearls, and a black blazer. By Jennifer Knight

Why is Patent Pro Bono important? The demographics of inventors in the U.S. are not nearly as diverse as our society. For example, women represent 50% of the workforce, 27% of STEM workers, but only 13% of inventors. Black and Hispanic college graduates patent at roughly 50% of the rate of white graduates. Also, individuals born into the top 1% of family incomes are 10 times more likely to patent intellectual property than those born in the entire bottom half.

As part of the USPTO Patent Pro Bono Program, Georgia Patents and North Carolina Bar Foundation (NCBF) partner to serve low-wealth inventors of North Carolina and provide you with an opportunity to help a low-wealth individual work toward obtaining a patent. The inventors have a total household income less than 300% of the federal poverty guidelines (individual, $38,640; family of 4, $79,500). They have been screened to ensure that they have a basic understanding of the patent process, an invention ready for patenting, and they have conducted a prior art search. Georgia Patents does the screening and the North Carolina Bar Foundation matches inventors with volunteer Patent Attorneys and Patent Agents. NCBF provides malpractice insurance for NC Patent Attorneys. The inventors are responsible for all USPTO fees.

Also, when you are matched with an inventor, the commitment is for a well-defined task, e.g., helping draft a patent application or helping respond to an Office Action. Inventors can seek help through Georgia Patents at various stages of the process. Given the timeline between patent applications and office actions, you are only committing to the task at hand. Engagement letters always make sure that the client understands the limited representation.

Patent attorneys can find doing pro bono work very challenging. On the one hand, we do not feel qualified to help with a lot of “traditional pro bono needs” such as family, housing, and consumer issues. On the other hand, finding appropriate pro bono clients for patent work can be daunting. The USPTO Patent Pro Bono Program, as implemented through Georgia Patents and NCBF for North Carolina, does an excellent job of matching patent practitioners with low-wealth inventors.

Paul Nguyen-Ba, staff attorney at the USPTO, recently presented information on the USPTO Pro Bono Patent Program to the IP law section of the NCBAR.  You can find more information from the USPTO. Information specific to North Carolina and a volunteer sign-up form is available.

Please join me in becoming a Patent Pro Bono volunteer. It is really impactful and satisfying work. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].