How to Be a Pro with Pro Bono

How to Be a Pro with Pro Bono by Pat Werschulz

{3:25 minutes to read} Many owners of startup businesses are understandably concerned about the cost of protecting their intellectual property. The patenting process can be expensive and a little bit scary, with an uncertain outcome.

For those who are “bootstrapping” it—working with their own money, without borrowing or having partners or investors—it can be even harder. Such people usually can’t afford to pay for a patent attorney to help them with the application.

Fortunately for those people, there are programs that can help. Two of these programs are available under something called “pro bono,” a Latin term short for pro bono publico—”for the public good.” This generally means an attorney donates his or her services to people who could not otherwise afford representation.

As part of the America Invents Act of 2012, Congress mandated that the Patent Office set up a pro bono program for inventors and startups who cannot afford a patent attorney. As a result, each state now has a program that creative, low-income people can take advantage of.

Program 1

In New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the program is administered by the New York Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (NYVLA). If you believe you have a patentable idea and would like a patent attorney to help you with it, you can submit your income information to the NYVLA. If you meet the criteria, a pro bono patent attorney will be assigned to you.

I am one of the listed pro bono patent attorneys. I currently have two pro bono cases through this program. These clients do not pay me anything. They do have to pay for any out-of-pocket expenses, such as drawings, research, and patent office fees. However, they qualify as micro-entities, so their Patent Office fees are the lowest possible.

Program 2

There is also an intermediate program for those whose family household income does not qualify them for the pro bono program. The Patent Office has authorized law school clinics to file patent applications on behalf of their clients. The students are supervised by a professional patent attorney. Although not free, these clinics are generally low-cost.

There are currently three law schools in New York City that are authorized by the Patent Office to work on patents through this program, as well as several in the area that are authorized to work on trademarks, including Rutgers School of Law – Newark, NJ.

If you have a brilliant idea but lack funds, these programs may help you get your invention patented. In my next article, I will discuss another option for bootstrapping inventors: pro se.

Please contact me with any questions about these programs.

Patricia Werschulz

Patricia P. Werschulz

Werschulz Patent Law, LLC
23 North Avenue East
Cranford, NJ 07016
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