Upper Midwest Inventor Assistance Program to Expand Access to Pro Bono Patent Services

Upper Midwest Inventor Assistance Program to Expand Access to Pro Bono Patent Services in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin

In 2011, the William Mitchell College of Law’s IP Law Clinic partnered with the LegalCORPS Inventor Assistance Program (IAP), the first formal pro bono program in the country dedicated to pairing low-income inventors with volunteer patent attorneys in Minnesota.  This partnership has been marked with success in only its first four years, with more than 60 inventors receiving pro bono assistance related to their inventions and patent applications and 15 patents formally granted.

In 2012, Section 32 of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act mandated that the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) support the formation of additional patent pro bono programs across the nation. As a result of this mandate and the early success in Minnesota, William Mitchell and LegalCORPS were recently selected to help launch similar programs in the neighboring upper Midwestern states of Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

On April 20, 2015, William Mitchell and LegalCORPS will formally launch the Upper Midwest Inventor Assistance Program (IAP) with a celebration at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. Invitees to the celebration include policy makers, business leaders, members of the judiciary, and attorneys who have or would like to volunteer for the program.  The day will begin with a morning orientation session for volunteer patent attorneys, followed by a luncheon at noon. The celebration continues at 1:30pm with a panel discussion on policy issues surrounding access to the patent system, specifically the advancement of women in IP practice.  The panelists include Denise DeFranco, AIPLA President-Elect and Partner at Finnegan, Hendersen, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner; Lisa Dunner, ABA IP Law Section Chair and Managing Partner at Dunner Law PLLC; Angela Grayson, Associate General Counsel, IP, at Walmart Stores, Inc.; and Doris Hines Johnson, Partner at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garret & Dunner; and will be moderated by Amy Salmela, Partner at Patterson Thuente IP.

A reception will follow the panel discussion at 3 p.m., featuring distinguished guests from Congress and USPTO, including Representative Keith Ellison, Representative Tom Emmer, USPTO Chief of Staff Andrew Byrnes, and USPTO Pro Bono Coordinator Jennifer McDowell.

The Upper Midwest IAP will be led by Professor Jay Erstling at William Mitchell in cooperation with Gillian Rosenquist, Administrator of the LegalCORPS IAP.  The Upper Midwest IAP will match low income inventors (i.e., those with income not more than 300% of federal poverty guidelines) in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin with volunteer patent attorneys for patent prosecution assistance. This has been an area of need for years, as low income inventors have had a difficult time finding needed assistance and representation with limited resources.  At the same time, many patent attorneys have been eager to find ways to give back to the community while practicing in their area of expertise.  A pool of volunteer patent attorneys is already available in Minnesota, though the Upper Midwest IAP is seeking volunteer patent attorneys to assist inventors in the four expansion states. The Upper Midwest IAP manages the volunteer attorney roster, conducts orientations for inventors and volunteer attorneys, and provides general support, information and outreach to the independent inventor community and volunteer attorneys.  It is the ultimate goal of the Upper Midwest IAP to transition the program into the care of each individual state.

The April 20 event at William Mitchell College of Law is free and open to the public. More information about WMIAP and the launch event can be found at http://www.wmitchell/edu/intellectual-property/inventors.

Katherine Janssen and Kirk Olimb are students at William Mitchell College of Law. Amy Salmela is a partner at the law firm Patterson Thuente IP.

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