As a patent attorney, one of the first questions that potential clients ask me is how much it costs to get a patent? The costs typically add up to thousands of dollars. Many inventors get discouraged upon hearing this. They can’t afford it and quit.
For me, I’m discouraged when I hear this. I’ve had clients that went from rags to riches because they got a patent. The Patent Pro Bono Program gives these individuals hope for success. The Program matches inventors with patent attorneys. Patent attorneys volunteer their time for free to help those inventors that can’t afford to hire a patent attorney.
Don’t quit. The never-give-up spirit is one of the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur that I’ve identified over my 17-year career helping inventors just like yourself. Through the Program, you only pay the USPTO fees and a nominal fee to the Patent Pro Bono Program administrator. You don’t pay the most expensive part of getting a patent – attorney fees. You get a patent at a fraction of the cost.
Best of all, the patent attorney agrees to represent you just like one of their regular paying clients.
I will talk about the Program as well as other resources from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
What is the Patent Pro Bono Program?
The Patent Pro Bono Program is a program set up by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Volunteer patent attorneys waive their attorney fees to help the community. The Program helps those who can’t afford to hire a patent attorney.
Nonprofit organizations administer the Program throughout the United States per region. The color-coded map below shows the various regions. Click on the map below to find out the Administrator of the Program in your area.
What are the benefits of the Patent Pro Bono Program?
The Patent Pro Bono Program isn’t merely providing inventors with one or two hours of help. Instead, the volunteer patent attorney agrees to represent you through the patent process.
You become a regular client of theirs. You and your idea have to clear conflicts with their firm. Once the attorney agrees to represent you, you and the volunteer patent attorney form an attorney-client relationship. The attorney-client privilege protects the discussions you have with your patent attorney. No one can make the patent attorney testify against you in a court of law. Also, the patent attorney must keep your invention confidential because of their ethical rules of conduct.
You don’t pay the attorney fees of the patent attorney. You will pay the USPTO fees and may pay the Administrator a nominal fee (e.g., $100).
The Patent Pro Bono Program is a low-cost way of getting a patent.
How to Apply to the Patent Pro Bono Program?
Find the Administrator in your region
For California inventors, particularly those residing in Orange County, California, California Lawyers for the Arts (aka CLAP) administers the Patent Pro Bono Program. CLAP is a lawyer referral and information service. I’ve served on the board for the LRIS program of the Orange County Bar Association. Well-meaning individuals join these types of groups.
Here is a list of Administrators in popular areas:
|State||Patent Pro Bono Program Administrator|
|California||California Lawyers for the Arts|
|Texas||Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts|
|Chicago||Chicago-Kent College of Law|
|New York||Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts|
Click on the map above to find the Administrator for your area.
Determine the requirements set up by Program Administrator
In general, the requirements to qualify for the Program is:
- The inventor must have a total household income less than three (3) times the federal poverty guidelines.
- The inventor must demonstrate knowledge of the patent system by either filing their own provisional or nonprovisional patent application or watching a seminar on the patent system.
- The inventor must have an invention, not merely an idea.
Although the Program has a threshold income requirement, each Administrator applies the income requirement differently. So, don’t quit. Investigate the income requirement. For example, in Chicago, the Chicago-Kent College of Law, allows businesses to apply yet have up to $150,000 total gross income in the preceding calendar year.
Demonstration of knowledge of the Patent system
You can demonstrate knowledge of the patent system in one of two ways:
- Filing a provisional patent application with the USPTO, or
- Completing a certificate training course.
Some clients file a provisional patent application before they speak with a patent attorney. They are afraid that the patent attorney will steal their idea. However, the patent attorney is bound to keep your idea confidential. So, I wouldn’t worry about a patent attorney stealing your idea.
I strongly recommend that you complete the certification training course. The Court is about 39 minutes long, and it is free. You will learn a lot about the patent system. You will save the volunteer attorney’s time. They won’t have to educate you on simple topics but can more quickly get started with you.
Have an invention, not just an idea
You know you have an invention when you can explain your idea to others so that they can make and use your invention. Otherwise, you have just an idea.
For example, space travel to Mars is just an idea, not an invention. You can’t tell others how to achieve space travel to Mars. If you can explain the life support system, rocket propulsion system, etc. to others so that they can also travel to Mars, then you have an invention.
Likewise, if you can explain to others how to make and use your widget, then you have an invention. If not, you have just an idea. Ideas cannot be patented.
Fill out the application forms
Each Administrator has different processes and requirements for applying to the Program.
However, in general, to qualify for the Program, you need to:
- Complete a Financial Screening Application; and
- Complete a patent certificate program: “Basic Patent Training for Independent Ivnentors and Small Businesses.”
Here is the Financial Screening Application form for California inventors. Other administrators require you to send them an email requesting their form. Go to the specific plan administrator for your state and ask them for the form.
Volunteer attorneys are waiving thousands of dollars in fees to help you. In return, they want to make sure that you genuinely need financial assistance in the form of free legal services. In general, you have to make less than three (3) times the poverty limits to qualify. In general, each region sets different levels. In my opinion, I suggest you apply. If you live in Orange County, California, you can apply via the CLA Financial Screening Application.
Plus, they want you to do your part in being efficient with the patent attorney. Instead of having the patent attorney educate you on the basics of the patent system, they want you to complete a 39-minute training course that goes over the patent system’s basics. I’ve gone through the course, and it is beneficial in teaching you the basics that you need to know about the patent system.
Why do patent attorneys volunteer their time?
The Patent Pro Bono Program matches you with a patent attorney in the local area who will waive their attorney fees. You only pay the government filing fee and sometimes an administrative cost to the Patent Pro Bono Program administrator. Instead of costing tens of thousands of dollars, a patent could cost the filing fee plus the issue fee.
You might ask yourself – why do these attorneys work for free. Being an attorney isn’t just a job. It is considered a profession. Our educational system tells us to help others when they can’t afford to take advantage of the legal system. Our ethical obligation is to help others who don’t have access to the legal system.
Pro Se assistance program
To get a patent, you have to understand the patent statutes in title 35 of the United States Code, Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations, and the Manual of Patent Examing Procedures. The Patent Office is willing to explain all of the statutes, the rules and the procedures via the Pro Se Assistance Program. The USPTO has numerous videos and you can can one-on-one assistance by appointment only. Call 1-866-767-3848 or email [email protected]
Law school clinic certification program
Law schools from all 50 states participate in the Law School Clinic Certification Program. Syracuse, UCI, UCLA, Notre Dame, and many more notable law school particpate in this program. Law students get practical experience helping inventors under the guidance of a senior attorney. You get free legal advice.