IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and USPTO create pro bono patent program for low-income inventors

By Vimbai Chikomo | Dec 31, 2015

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law has announced a partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to create a program designed to assist low-income inventors and small business in Illinois who qualify.

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law has announced a partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to create a program designed to assist low-income inventors and small business in Illinois who qualify.

The Chicago-Kent Patent Hub program was created as part of a USPTO pro bono initiative to provide assistance with the patent application and prosecution process for inventors in all 50 states, the school said. Under the program, regional program administrators connect with local inventors who are eligible based on income threshold and other requirements, and match them with volunteers from local patent agents or attorneys licensed to practice before the Patent and Trademark Office.

The Chicago-Kent Patent Hub is currently working with about 30 attorneys from 18 law firms that have signed up to assist with the initiative, IIT Chicago-Kent said.

The Chicago-Kent Patent Hub launched on Oct.14 with an event at the law school. About 80 attendees were present, including Congressman Bobby Rush and Congressman Rodney Davis, who both spoke at the launch. Mary Anne Smith, director of the Chicago-Kent Patent Hub said the launch was a success and inventors have been coming forward.

“It was a nice event. It went well and we were pleased with it. So far I’ve heard from, or connected with, about 60 inventors,” Smith said.

Smith added not all of the inventors who have contacted her have showed up for scheduled interviews, but they have all had the opportunity to get more information, if they chose to.

Smith earned a master's degree from IIT and a law degree from IIT Chicago Kent in 1977, and soon began her career at IIT as the university's first in-house attorney. Smith has extensive pro bono experience. She established a Chicago Volunteer Legal Services clinic at Visitation Church on Chicago's South Side in 1988, which she continues to chair, and has personally handled many cases for low income clients. She retired as vice president and general counsel in 2012.

Qualifying for services from the Chicago-Kent Patent Hub requires an inventor to be based in Illinois and have a total household income of less than 300% of the federal poverty guidelines issued each year by the Department of Health and Human Services. Inventors can go the Chicago-Kent College of Law website to find out if they qualify for the program.

“We have a link on there to the federal poverty guidelines, and there’s a chart that shows poverty levels. So all they have to do is look at their family size and multiply by 3,” Smith said.

In addition to meeting the household income requirement, inventors are required to demonstrate an understanding of the patent process and what can be done with a patent once it is received. In order to do this, inventors are encouraged to complete a training module on the Patent and Trademark Office website or show a filing receipt for having filed a provisional patent.

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law has used a variety of methods to spread the word about the Chicago-Kent Patent Hub.

“We’ve worked with the Chicago inventors, our Knapp Center for Entrepreneurship has been publicizing it to all the programs they work with. There’s a program with the Small Business Administration, Illinois Small Business Development Center, the Illinois Development Program at the IRS, and then MATTER Chicago. We’ve also advertised it through 1871. So we get the word out wherever we can,” Smith said.

The Jules F. Knapp Entrepreneurship Center at IIT describes itself as an organization designed to help neighborhood businesses grow by offering a wide variety of supportive services for startup and existing small businesses in Illinois.

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