Under Section 32 of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) which became law in 2011, the USPTO is required to work with and support intellectual property law associations across the country in the establishment of pro bono programs designed to assist “financially under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses.” In keeping with its obligations, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has announced a new charter agreement placing the burgeoning regional pro bono efforts in the hands of a newly-formed central advisory council. Specifically, the AIA Pro Bono Advisory Council has been formed to assist existing regional programs and offer assistance to new programs so that they can operate under a central framework.
The USPTO’s Pro Bono website also has a video that explains the general eligibility requirements for interested applicants, and cautions that because each regional program is different, the requirements may vary. A centralized online “clearing house” is administered by the Federal Circuit Bar Association to place qualified inventors into the regional pro bono patent programs. One of the main qualification criteria is household income, with a cutoff at approximately 300% of the official poverty level, adjusted by region. It should also be noted that accepted applicants are responsible for paying the applicable USPTO fees, even though professional assistance may be rendered free of charge.
Following the launch of the first such program in Minnesota in 2011, the USPTO has been working with regional intellectual property law associations to assist in the establishment of additional pro bono patent programs across the country. For those states with pro bono patent programs currently available, a link to the National Clearinghouse is provided on the particular state’s resource page of the USPTO’s State Resources site. The USPTO hopes to see regional pro bono programs covering all 50 states by early 2015.