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Find volunteer patent attorneys & agents

Sometimes all it takes to change the world is a dream and a little support.

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Well over 300 patents have been granted to patent pro bono inventors.

What we do:

The core mission of the PBAC is to assist the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with the administration of patent pro bono programs across the United States. Established pursuant to the America Invents Act of 2011, the program's 22 non-profit organizations match under-resourced inventors with top quality volunteer patent attorneys or patent agents. Through their generous donation of time and effort, these volunteers ensure critical inventions, of benefit to all mankind, are not lost because of an inventor's inability to afford quality counsel. 

FOR INVENTORS

The USPTO provides inventor resources and links to the regional programs on its website. You can find that information here:  

https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/using-legal-services/pro-bono/patent-pro-bono-program

FOR VOLUNTEER PATENT AGENTS AND ATTORNEYS

Agents and attorneys interested in volunteering may also visit the USPTO Patent Pro Bono page to connect to their regional program.

https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/using-legal-services/pro-bono/patent-pro-bono-program

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Home: Who We Are
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David Kappos
Former Director of the United States Patent & Trademark Office, Pro Bono Advisory Council Board Member

“It’s heartbreaking when you meet someone with an amazing idea and realize it will never go anywhere because the person doesn’t have access to the legal system. With this program, we can now bring voice to that invention.”

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Jim Patterson

Chairman, Pro Bono Advisory Counsel

Jim Patterson is a patent attorney, Principal, and the founder of Patterson Thuente IP. Access to justice for the disadvantaged has been an important part of Jim’s career. Over the past several years, Jim has been instrumental in not only developing the first pro bono patent law program in the US, but also providing start-up guidance to patent pro bono programs across the country. Jim is also a liaison to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Inventor Assistance Program, an initiative in cooperation with the World Economic Forum.

Morris Newman


Morris serves as the Executive Director of the Patent Pro Bono Advisory Counsel and the United Inventors Association.

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Joe Mischler

Chair, Patent Pro Bono Advisory Counsel Fund Raising Committee

Joe is an executive focused on growth primarily with start-up and PE backed companies, having returned billions in value to investors. Joe has been involved in the intellectual property space for over 15 years and currently serves on the Patent Pro Bono Advisory Counsel as Chair of the Fund-Raising Committee, supporting the USPTO’s patent pro bono initiative. Joe also serves as a growth advisor to AiPi's Social Impact fund and has served as an advisory board member for the university of Maryland’s Smith School of Business’s, School of Entrepreneurship and as an advisor to other growth-oriented companies.

Lateef Mtima

Board of Advisors

Lateef Mtima is a Professor of Law at the Howard University School of Law. After graduating with honors from Amherst College, Professor Mtima received his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School, where he was the co-founder and later editor-in-chief of the Harvard BlackLetter Journal.

Currently a member of the Advisory Council for the United States Court of Federal Claims, Professor Mtima has held the post of Distinguished Libra Visiting Scholar in Residence at the University of Maine School of Law, is a past President of the Giles S. Rich Inn of Court for the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and was a member of the founding Editorial Board for the American Bar Association intellectual property periodical Landslide.

Professor Mtima is the Founder and Director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice, an accredited Non-governmental Organization Member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

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David Kappos

Board of Advisors

David J. Kappos is Co-Chair of the Intellectual Property Practice. He is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost leaders in the field of intellectual property, including intellectual property management and strategy, the development of global intellectual property norms, laws and practices as well as commercialization and enforcement of innovation‑based assets. Mr. Kappos supports Cravath’s clients with a wide range of their most complex intellectual property issues, including those pertaining to blockchain, cryptoassets and fintech, as well as data security and privacy.

From August 2009 to January 2013, Mr. Kappos served as Under Secretary of Commerce and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In that role, he advised the President, the Secretary of Commerce and the Administration on intellectual property policy matters. As Director of the USPTO, he led the Agency in dramatically re‑engineering its entire management and operational systems as well as its engagement with the global innovation community. He was instrumental in achieving the greatest legislative reform of the U.S. patent system in generations through passage and implementation of the Leahy‑Smith America Invents Act, signed into law by President Obama in September 2011.

Dara Kendell

Board of Advisors

Dara serves as the Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Procter & Gamble. Dara is know as a creative and tenacious intellectual property-focused legal executive leading global businesses which account for over $33 Billion in annual sales, possesses extensive global in-house experience in strategic IP development and enforcement, legal and associated business counseling on IP, advertising, and product safety, and partnering with global businesses to propel stretch market objectives with a scarcity mindset.

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 Ben Fernandez

Advisory Board

Ben Fernandez is an intellectual property lawyer at WilmerHale who possesses noteworthy subject matter and industry knowledge and has experience in patent and trademark portfolio management, freedom to operate/competitive landscape, and IP diligence. With more than 15 years of intellectual property experience, his practice centers on helping companies navigate patent and trademark law complexities to achieve their business objectives. He draws on his extensive experience in managing US and international IP portfolios to advise clients on achieving the most strategic and valuable coverage possible and developing formidable IP rights.
As part of Mr. Fernandez's freedom to operate/competitive landscape work, he has helped clients launching new products understand how to avoid, design around and license to minimize risk from competitors' patents. Mr. Fernandez is well-versed in both pre- and post-America Invents Act patent laws and has defended patents in USPTO post-grant proceedings.

Kirk Damman

Director of Communications

Kirk practices in all areas of intellectual property law, with an emphasis on helping startup and growing companies, begin to manage, license, and gain value from their intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets) as well as obtain protection for their most important ideas and products. With a degree in physics and licensed to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for more than 20 years, Kirk works with clients whose products are as diverse as circuit and electrical designs, medical devices, computer software and Internet, heavy equipment and manufacturing, alternative energy and fuel, and consumer goods.

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Home: Our Team

Latest News & Resources

Our media database includes the latest news footage and archives of past Pro Bono Advisory Council articles. Here you will find the collection of publications and reports dating from the organization’s inception in 2000, all the way up to the present day. Check out some of our featured articles below and learn more about our efforts.

Home: News
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Interview with Jim Patterson of Patterson Thuente

The Pro Bono Program of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides independent inventors and small businesses with access to patent advice that they otherwise could not afford. We spoke to Jim Patterson of Patterson Thuente IP to discover the origins of the now nationwide network of independently-operated regional programs and what it was set up to achieve.

In the race to bring an innovation to market, it is the financially under-resourced who are most at risk of being left behind. Coming up with an idea is only the first step of a longer and far more expensive journey to obtain and enforce patent protection. Those without the big budgets or resources of their larger competitors may find that they are already at the back of the pack. It is here that IP pro bono projects have a crucial role to play. 


Nonetheless, it may be surprising to learn that the USPTO’s flagship Pro Bono Program – the first and only federally funded pro bono project in the US –  was many years in the making. Now a nationwide network of independently operated regional programs, the first of these was set up in Minnesota in 2011, and later expanded throughout the US to 50 states, and now also extended to some countries through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).


As one of the architects of that program (alongside pro bono specialist Candee Goodman), Minnesota-based Jim Patterson was able to draw on a rich experience volunteering at pro bono legal projects that stretched back to the very start of his career. Patterson cut his teeth in the pro bono realm at inner-city clinics, helping people with landlord and family law issues. He continued this work through much of his career while practising law first at the large national firm Dorsey & Whitney and then at his own firm, which he co-founded 30 years ago. 

However, it was an opportune discussion at a conference with David Kappos, then Undersecretary of Commerce for IP and Director of the USPTO, that led to Patterson’s involvement in the Pro Bono Project. An informal discussion with Kappos on the topic was swiftly followed up by an unexpected call from John Calvert at the USPTO’s Office of Innovation Development, at which point he brought in Candee Goodman from Lindquist & Vennum (now Ballard Spahr) to assist. “When we submitted our ideas [developed over an evening’s brainstorm], we thought that would be it. Instead, a week later, we received a call to say the project was approved and we were on our way.”


Of course, before the project could be launched, the team first needed to secure the necessary funding, iron out the processes and procedures, and promote the program to generate support and volunteers. This itself was no mean feat to achieve.

Establishing a basis for giving back

Although often used as shorthand for ‘free’ advice, the term pro bono comes from the Latin pro bono publico, meaning ‘for the public good’. In other words, it’s a chance for lawyers to give something back to the community.

It is here, however, that the challenge can often be found for IP pro bono projects, as opposed to general legal advice. As Patterson explains: “If you open the door freely to independent inventors on a walk-in basis, you will see a wide range of interesting people but very few good ideas. We knew that if we were going to ask attorneys to give up their time, we needed to make sure there was a proper screening of the candidates they would be meeting.”

The next step was to set the parameters for gaining access to the program. “If we started giving free advice to people who could be paying lawyers, then we’re simply taking away clients from the volunteers,” explains Patterson, “so we needed to set a threshold of where you begin to pay.” Again, this differed from a general legal pro bono project: “It can cost between USD 5-10K to obtain a patent. When it comes to screening for economical need, there’s a big gap between that and the poverty level.” The team played around and came up with three times the poverty level as the cut-off, which is still used by most of the projects today.


Measuring success 

Pre-screening assessments are conducted by a board of lawyers who appraise the projects and refer those that meet the criteria on to the attorneys. How do they draw the line? “Inventors have to have some skin in the game,” says Patterson, explaining that this is something he learned volunteering at the walk-in clinics. “They have to be willing to take part in a screening and make the necessary effort or investment, either in time or money, to advance their projects.” He gives as an example filing a provisional application or taking a course in patent fundamentals. 

But, with less than a fifth of output from research and development (R&D) making it to market, not every invention will make it beyond the clinic. “Not every user goes on to file or enforce a patent,” agrees Patterson, but he says he has been surprised at the quality of some of the disclosures: “The real brass ring is to have a client build a successful business around their innovation. That’s what the whole patent system was set up to achieve.” But, he notes that, “too many entrepreneurs give up too quickly, which is why the pro bono project is so necessary.” 

Caption: The USPTO’s data shows that inquiries have been steadily growing nationwide in the last five years.

A sample of the program’s recent activity in Minnesota reveals that 47% of users went on to file a utility patent, 30% a provisional patent application and 13% a patent application, while only 17% took no further action. Although Patterson adds that: “It can be just as important to give people the chance to be heard. That can be a large part of giving access to justice.” 


It’s an equally rewarding program from the perspective of the volunteer attorneys. Patterson says the project has never had problems with recruiting lawyers or gaining the support of the Bar Associations. Indeed, the future for IP pro bono looks bright, with initiatives underway to further internationalize the project at WIPO, as well as to provide pro bono services at the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and to expand the pro bono program of the International Trademark Association (INTA). 


For more information on the USPTO’s Pro Bono Project, please visit: www.uspto.gov/patents/basics/using-legal-services/pro-bono/patent-pro-bono-program 

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Case Studies

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SHAWN MICHELS

Shawn built a simple, but highly innovative guide for diabetics to stabilize an insulin pen for easy one-handed use. Steady Shot was born and soon his bruising and painful injections faded away.  https://mysteadyshot.com


Shawn was assisted by LegalCorps, the program serving inventors in North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. http://legalcorps.org/inventors

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JEN AND TRAVIS KELLEY
With “book knowledge” on how to install a door, the Kelleys thought it would be easy to install a door in their nursery. It was anything but. Their struggles with a seemingly simple task led to their inventing a tool for DIY’s. 

https://jentratools.com/shop/cheatah-door-level/

Jen and Travis were assisted by LegalCorps, the program serving inventors in North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. http://legalcorps.org/inventors

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KYLE SNOWBERGER

Kyle Snowberger is an aerospace engineer with a dream; that one day soon there will be a High Altitude Air Launch to Orbit system suitable for commercial applications. Kyle is more than a visionary, he is an inventor who designed and is now creating the system he envisioned. 

https://interceptnexus.com

Kyle was assisted by the Pennsylvania Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, the program that serves residents of Pennsylvania. https://pvla.org

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MALEK FAYED
A few years ago  Malek had a simple but profound revelation: Thousands of people every day grasp handrails on escalators and moving sidewalks; there should be a simple and inexpensive way to keep these handrails clean. Leveraging his inventive mind and his academic background, Malek invented the “ESCi Clean” system, a simple cost effective  device to help protect our health as we grasp moving handrails in our daily travels.

Malek was assisted by the Chicago-Kent College of Law program, serving inventors residing in the State of Illinois. https://www.kentlaw.iit.edu/seeking-legal-help/illinois-patent-pro-bono

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DYAN GREY

Dyan Grey is an artist. Dyan’s attraction to natural material, texture and form led her to furniture design. With patent in hand, Dyan’s furniture has been exhibited in prestigious venues including the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, the Architectural Digest Home Show and the Modernism Show.

https://www.ddgdesignstudio.com

Dyan was assisted by the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts New York program, serving inventors in the Tri-State area of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. 

https://vlany.org/patent-pro-bono-program/

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MICHAEL LOPEZ
Michael invented the Halo Ramp, an innovative articulating truck delivery ramp. With the Halo, drivers can safely unload their trucks in difficult areas.

https://haloramp.com

Michael was asisted by LegalCorps, the program serving inventors in North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. http://legalcorps.org/inventors

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Make a Donation

The Patent Pro Bono Advisory Council, a 501 (c) (3) organization, depends on donations to continue its mission. Make a donation using the link below or mail a  check to:


Patent Pro Bono Advisory Council
1012 28th Place South
Birmingham, AL 35205

You agree that you are responsible for consulting your own tax advisor as to the tax consequences associated with your donation. The tax rules governing options are complex, change frequently and depend on the individual taxpayer's situation.

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