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Patents for Humanity Pilot Program
May 21, 2012

On February 8, 2012 the The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced the Patents for Humanity pilot program. This 12-month program rewards patent owners for using their patented technology to address humanitarian needs by bring life-saving technologies to underserved regions of the world. The program encourages up to 1,000 applicants to demonstrate how their technology advances research in one of four categories. Examples of technologies eligible for consideration within the program include life-saving medical diagnostic equipment, water sterilization devices, mosquito control, and land mine detection, among others.

Applications for the program may be submitted through the Patents for Humanity portal. Additional information regarding the application process is also available on this site. The submission period is scheduled to run from March 1, 2012 until August 31, 2012 or until the maximum number of applications is reached. Submissions will be published on a public website after being reviewed. Judging of the applications, by researchers from academia and Federal laboratories, will occur between September 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012. Each application will be reviewed by three judges working independently. The results of the pilot program will be reviewed to determine whether to renew the program.

The program is open to patent owners, assignees, and exclusive and non-exclusive licensees. Each application must involve technology that is the subject of one or more claims in an issued U.S. utility patent or a pending U.S. utility patent application owned or licensed by the applicant. If using a patent application as the basis for the program application, applicants must show that a Notice of Allowance for one or more claims from the patent application has been issued before a certificate will be awarded. Inventions from any field of technology applied to one of the four competition categories may participate.

Licensees and patent owners may submit a joint application where both parties contributed to the endeavor. Alternatively, licensees may apply on their own based on actions they have performed. For applications which do not list a patent owner as an applicant, licensees must notify the patent owners and provide them a copy of the application at least 14 days before submitting it. There is no preset limit on the number of awards that can be given per technology or per program applicant. Applicants can determine how many program applications to submit and which actions and technologies to cover in each application. However, diversity of awarded technologies will factor into the judging and may discourage granting multiple awards to the same technology or applicant.

Participants should demonstrate how their actions have increased the use of patented technology to address humanitarian issues. For the purposes of the program, a humanitarian issue is considered to be an issue that significantly affects the public health or quality of life of an impoverished population. Applications may address one of four categories: Medical Technology, Food & Nutrition, Clean Technology, and Information Technology. Medical Technology includes medicines and vaccines, diagnostic equipment, or assistive devices. Food & Nutrition includes agricultural technology such as drought resistant crops, more nutritious crop strains, and farming equipment, and also technologies which improve food storage, preservation, or preparation. Clean Technology encompasses technologies that improve public health by removing or reducing harmful contaminants in the environment, such as water filters, sterilization devices, and cleaner sources of energy for light, heat, cooking, or other basic needs. Information Technology encompasses both physical devices and software which markedly improve the lives of the poor, such as portable computers, cell phones, or Internet access devices being used to foster literacy, education, or other knowledge which improves living standards.

Applications will be judged on the positive impact of the technology on either humanitarian use or humanitarian research. Humanitarian uses include treatments for disease, medical diagnostics, water purification, more nutritious or higher yield crops, pollution reduction and education or literacy devices. Applications should focus on demonstrated improvements in the lives of the poor and should demonstrate how the subject matter of their technology effectively addresses a recognized humanitarian issue. Applicants should also show that the actions described in the application targets an impoverished population affected by the humanitarian issue and have significantly increased application of the technology.

The impact of humanitarian research should be directed towards making patented technologies available for conducting research on a humanitarian issue. Examples of technologies with potential humanitarian research benefits include patented molecules, drug discovery tools, gene sequencing or splicing devices, special-purpose seed strains. The focus of the applicants’ efforts should be on contributing needed tools to areas of humanitarian research lacking commercial application. Applicants should demonstrate that their technology, which is claimed in a pending U.S. utility patent or U.S. utility patent application, has made a significant contribution to substantial research conducted by others and which clearly targets a humanitarian issue and that the research occurs in an area lacking significant commercial application. The applicants’ should also demonstrate that they took significant action to make the technology available to the other researchers.

Up to fifty winners will receive certificates allowing one of their patent applications to be accelerated at the USPTO. Winners will also receive public recognition at an awards ceremony at the USPTO. The certificate may be used to accelerate an ex parte reexamination proceeding, including one appeal to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (“BPAI”) from that proceeding; a patent application, including one appeal to the BPAI from that application; or an appeal to the BPAI of a claim twice rejected in a patent application or reissue application or finally rejected in an ex parte reexamination. Certificate holders may redeem their certificate to accelerate any one matter in their portfolio not related to the subject of the humanitarian program application. Certificates awarded in the pilot are not transferable. Inter partes reexaminations and interference proceedings are not eligible for acceleration, nor are the forthcoming post grant reviews, inter partes reviews, derivation proceedings, or supplemental examinations.

In order to receive acceleration, the applicant must agree to certain conditions. Patent applications may contain no more than four independent claims and 30 total claims. A certificate can be redeemed in a patent or reissue application appeal to the BPAI at any time after a docketing notice has issued and before the matter is assigned to a panel. A certificate can only be redeemed for reexamination acceleration (i) with the request for reexamination; (ii) during the period for patent owner comment after grant of proceeding; or (iii) when a final rejection is appealed to the BPAI. No more than three new independent claims and twenty total new claims may be added during an accelerated reexamination. New claims are those beyond the number contained in the patent at the time of the reexamination request. Claims may be added without triggering this limit by canceling an equal number of existing claims. All submissions in accelerated examinations must be filed electronically. Petitions filed in the matter must be filed in good faith. Revival and Request for Continued Reexamination petitions may not be filed. Failure by the applicant to abide by these conditions may result in the acceleration being revoked without return of the certificate and the matter reverting to normal processing.

Complete official rules of the pilot program may be found in the program notice published in the Federal Register at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-02-08/pdf/2012-3040.pdf.

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