More garage inventors and small startups could soon get free legal help with filing patents.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is opening pro bono legal programs in California, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the office announced yesterday (Oct. 25). The program could help level the playing field for citizen-inventors in a time when the Apples and Googles of the world hire large legal teams to file and defend their patents.
"USPTO is thrilled to be working with FCBA [Federal Circuit Bar Association] on this critical initiative, for the first time providing innovative Americans access to patent law services they otherwise would not be able to afford," director David Kappos said in a statement.
"Our examiners benefit by receiving better quality applications that they can examine more efficiently and effectively," Kappos added.
Individual inventors and small businesses with a financial need may apply for help from a local volunteer lawyer through the patent office's website. The program doesn't guarantee there will be a lawyer available for every eligible applicant, a Federal Circuit Bar Association document says.
The patent office has already established similar programs in Colorado, Minnesota and Texas and plans to create 10 more programs by the end of 2013.
The patent office helps train volunteer lawyers for the program, and maintains the online application for inventors. The Federal Circuit Bar Association screens applicants and sends them along to local intellectual property associations, such as California Lawyers for the Arts.
The program fulfills one section of the America Invents Act, signed into law last year, which required the patent office to establish pro bono services for smaller inventors.