Business lunches have sparked creative ideas and solutions for centuries. But what happens when David Kappos, director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), breaks bread with Jim Patterson, managing partner of Patterson Thuente, a leading Minnesota intellectual property law firm?
Good things. Especially for fledgling Minnesota inventors.
One might imagine the arduous and lengthy process the USPTO requires of its applicants. Kappos and Patterson's discussion involved streamlining that process by ultimately pairing inventors with patent attorneys to ensure proper paperwork while avoiding unnecessary delays. (A mind-boggling 706,778 applications are awaiting decisions or updates from the government agency at this writing.)
Inventors typically lack the knowledge to apply for their patents. Many also lack the financial resources to hire a patent attorney who could otherwise expedite submissions to the USPTO. Thus, filings are produced pro se (without legal representation), taking significantly more time to get to approval.
"The barrier to entry to just get a patent issued could be anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000," Patterson said. "It is a very sophisticated process and to try and do it without an attorney is not realistic."
Kappos told Patterson that while initiatives to deliver free legal advice to inventors have twice failed in other states, he believed Minnesota might be an exception.
Patterson noted that the Twin Cities' legal community was indeed tightly knit and offered a long history of charitable endeavor. But could the intellectual property lawyer marshal the infrastructure and the considerable pro bono resources to bring Kappos' vision to life?
"What's important to director Kappos is that we assist this great resource, the American inventor, and provide help to people who otherwise don't have access to this particular corner of the justice system," Patterson noted.
There had never been a pro bono campaign in Minnesota strictly involving patent attorneys, so Patterson knew he needed an ally. Help came from Candee Goodman, pro bono director at Minneapolis-based Lindquist & Vennum, and an experienced professional at organizing legal contributions for worthy causes. Goodman suggested the logistical solution for their cause might already exist with LegalCorps, the association connecting volunteer lawyers to Minnesota's small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
The two sought out Neil Meyer, LegalCorps' president, pitched the idea and received a quick endorsement. It was also determined inventors with annual incomes not exceeding 300% of the U.S. poverty line–about $22,000/household of four or $66,000–would qualify for assistance. More than 180 patent attorneys subsequently volunteered their time, ensuring the campaign's formal launch this past June.
Plans are for the USPTO to forward pro se applications to LegalCorps which then matches the inventor with a volunteer attorney. Applicants may contact LegalCorps directly or contact the USPTO and ask if their paperwork can be directed to LegalCorps.
Meyer stated that while there is no certainty of any patent being granted, the goal is to give qualifying inventors a fair chance to bring their hard work to fruition.
"The Minnesota bar has a tremendous legacy of giving, and this initiative is just one more example of our community's ability to recognize and meet a need."
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(West St. Paul)
Invention: Integrated online system for identifying and valuing foreclosure real estate transactions.
Inventors: Bernard C. Hill, David L. Casper
Mark A. Litman & Associates, P.A.
Patent #: 7,945,495
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Invention: Remote monitoring system for ambulatory patients incorporating a memory device that is programmed with a set of question hierarchies in order to diagnose a patient.
Inventors: Daniel L. Cosentino, Louis C. Cosentino
Attorney: Fulbright & Jaworski
Patent #: 7,945,451
» CanCure Laboratories, LLC (Austin, MN)
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Inventors: Zoltan Kiss
Attorney: Faegre & Benson LLP
Patent #: 7,943,606
» 3M Innovative Properties Company (St. Paul)
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Inventors: Jun Seok Lee, Sunghak Hwang, Kim Seogju
Attorney: Not listed
Patent #: 7,942,957