Are you an inventor or small business who has limited resources and needs help applying for a patent on an invention? If so, you may be eligible to receive pro bono ("for free") attorney representation through the Nationwide Pro Bono Program.
Please watch this video to learn more about the patent pro bono program: Patent Pro Bono Program Informational Video
Why have Pro Bono Programs now?
The Pro Bono Program is an outcome of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) which encouraged the USPTO 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." It is one the Obama Administration's seven Executive Actions for the USPTO to assist innovators by expanding the pro bono program to cover all 50 states.
Requirements for Pro Bono Assistance
The eligibility requirements vary for each program. In general, there are three basic requirements:
- maximum household income;
- knowledge of the patent system; and
- you must have an invention - not just an idea!
Maximum Household Income
You must earn less than the regional program's income limitation.
- Region dependent, but usually 300% of federal poverty levels. (link is external)Please check your regional program's web site to determine your income limitation. Examples (how to compute a 300% poverty level for a family income):
- Example 1 - a single person could have an income of up to $35,640 (3 times the current single person poverty level of $11,880)
Knowledge of the Patent System
There are two ways to demonstrate your knowledge of the patent system:
- Have a current provisional or nonprovisional patent application on file with the USPTO
NOTE: Some regional programs require that a provisional patent application be filed as a condition of requesting assistance,
- Successfully complete the on-line Certificate Training Course
NOTE: Many regional pro bono programs require successful completion of the certificate training to be considered for the program
You must have an Invention - not just an idea!
Before you can obtain a pro bono attorney, you will have to have an actual invention, not merely an idea. To demonstrate an invention, you should be able to describe the invention so that someone else could actually make and use the invention.
CAUTION: Do not publicly disclose your invention prior to filing a patent application or at least a provisional application for a patent. To do so could make it prior art against itself, resulting in an inability to secure a patent.
How to Apply for Pro Bono Assistance
There are two ways to apply for pro bono assistance. First, you may apply directly with the regional Patent Pro Bono Program in the state where you live. You may access the regional program’s website by clicking on the map. Alternatively, you may apply through an online portal known as the National Clearinghouse, which is operated by the Federal Circuit Bar Association. The National Clearinghouse portal will require you to provide contact information and answer a few questions. It also will require you to provide 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 generally come from the regional Pro Bono Program. Visit the Federal Circuit Bar Association’s National Clearinghouse (link is external) to apply for pro bono assistance.
- Inventors and Entrepreneurs Resources page
- For additional information available to inventors and entrepreneurs.
- Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (PTRCs)
- What Are Patents, Trademarks, Servicemarks, and Copyrights?
- Intellectual Property (IP) Awareness Assessment Tool
- Process for Obtaining a Utility Patent
- Training Video