Diversity & Inclusion

For low-income inventors, here’s the Delaware Patent Pro Bono Program

Federally mandated, the program has three requirements: low household income, knowledge of the patent system and an invention, not just an idea.

Sen. Coons unveils the Delaware Patent Pro Bono Program. (Photo by Lindsay Podraza)

Growing up in Delaware, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons was surrounded by patent-holding innovators, like, for example, his high school chemistry teacher, his minister and even his Boy Scout troop leader.
“If you didn’t have a patent, you were not allowed at the adults’ table for Thanksgiving dinner,” he joked to the crowd at Widener University Delaware Law School’s Monday launch of the Delaware Patent Pro Bono Program.
The program is a collaborative effort between the law school and registered Delaware patent attorneys, with assistance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Its main aim: To help Delaware’s low-income and small business inventors navigate the legal landscape of patents.
The America Invents Act, a federal statute enacted in 2011, has a provision that calls for each state to have pro bono programs in place to foster American innovation.
Delaware’s program has three requirements for eligibility:

  1. A total household income below three times the federal poverty guidelines
  2. Demonstrated knowledge of the patent system
  3. and an actual invention— not just an idea.

Alan Garfield, a Delaware Law professor integral to organizing the program, and Delaware Law’s dean, Rod Smolla, expressed their excitement about how the program will enhance the First State.
As a small state, Smolla noted, Delaware isn’t rich in acreage.
“But if it’s measured by potential in intellectual property,” he said, “it is infinite in its capacity.”
Joan Kluger, an intellectual property attorney at Barnes & Thornburg who has also been involved in the program’s launch, said the majority of new jobs in Delaware have been startups and emerging businesses, which are the kinds of groups that would probably benefit from pro bono patent aid.
“There’s no shortage of innovative Delawareans,” she said.
Beyond the enthusiasm, the challenge will be just how many of Delaware’s 900,000 residents will fulfill all three requirements — low household income, patent knowledge and a clear invention. That’s one challenge for the program but not one many participants seemed much concerned by. In News Journal coverage, Delivery Circle founder Vijaya Rao, who held corporate jobs before leaving to start her company, was quoted for her interest but it’s not entirely clear if she would have been eligible for the program, coming off a job at Motorola Mobility. (Find also NewsWorks coverage of the program here)
The law school, Kluger said, will screen applicants and match them with patent attorneys and agents, and there’s now a need for attorneys to volunteer their time. Carol White, a patent attorney and in-house counsel at W. L. Gore & Associates, has already signed up: “It’s just a really nice way to give back to the state and community.”

Companies: Widener University

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