Unleashing American Innovators Act – Expanding Patent Owner Diversity
Lisa L. Mueller
Casimir Jones S.C.
On August 5, 2022, Congresswomen Deborah Ross (D-NC) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced the “Unleashing American Innovators Act”. This legislation is intended to address the disparities in the U.S. patent system and expand access to patents for underrepresented communities. According to Congresswoman Mace, “[I]nnovation and invention are part of what makes America the greatest country on earth. We must ensure the talented and creative minds of America are able to access the resources they need regardless of their gender or race. This legislation will make a critical step in promoting equal access to the tools that have consistently allowed America to lead the world in technological advancement and entrepreneurship.”
The main components of the legislation are outlined below.
- Requires the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to conduct outreach to underrepresented groups (e.g., women, people of color, veterans, individual inventors, members of any other demographic, geographic, rural populations or other economic group underrepresented in patent filings) to increase participation in the patent system.
- Requires the USPTO to establish a new satellite office in the Southeast region to serve the states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Additionally, the USPTO is further required to conduct a study to determine whether additional satellite offices are needed.
- Requires the creation a network of at least four smaller community outreach offices to educate the public about the patent system, the benefits of innovation and entrepreneurship, and to educate prospective inventors about all public and private resources available to potential patent applicants, including pro bono programs. The proposed legislation requires that at least one of these community outreach offices be in the northern New England region serving the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
- Requires the USPTO to complete a study of the patent pro bono program to assess: (1) whether the program is sufficiently serving women, people of color, veterans, individual inventors, or members of any other demographic, geographic, rural population or economic group that the Director determines to be underrepresented in patent filings; (2) whether the program is sufficiently funded to serve prospective participants; (3) whether any participation requirements serve as a deterrent for prospective participants; (4) the degree to which prospective inventors are aware of the program; (5) what factors, if any, deter attorneys from participating in the program; and (6) whether the program could be improved by expanding it to include non-attorney advocates (e.g., patent agents).
- Expands the income eligibility under the patent pro bono program to individuals living in a household whose gross household income is not more than 400 percent of the Federal poverty line.
- Establishes a pilot program to assist first-time prospective patent applicants in determining whether their inventions are likely to be patentable. Under this pilot program, any assessment provided by the USPTO would not be considered to be an “official ruling” of patentability from the office.
- Lowers the general fees for small entities from 50 percent to 60 percent and electronic filing fees for such entities from 75 percent to 80 percent.
This legislation introduced by Representatives Ross and Mace has some similarities to legislation introduced in September 2021 by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), which has been stalled in the Senate Intellectual Property Subcommittee.
Time will tell whether the House or Senate bill, or some version in-between, is ultimately passed by Congress.