Here are answers to some of the questions inventors often ask about the Upper Midwest Patent Assistance Program.
What are the financial thresholds of program eligibility?
If applying as an individual, the inventor’s household income must be at or beneath 300% of the poverty guidelines as issued each year in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services (see chart below).
For individuals applying to the program as a small business, the combined incomes of the principal shareholders will be considered under the same guidelines as an individual inventor.
2016 Poverty Guidelines Persons in family/household 300% of poverty guideline ($) 1 35,640 2 48,060 3 60,480 4 72,900 5 85,320 6 97,740 7 110,190 8 122,670 For families/households with more than 8 persons, add $12,480 for each additional person.
Why does Mitchell Hamline help only inventors with provisional patent applications already on file?All assistance Mitchell Hamline provides is through the service of volunteer attorneys. To assure volunteers that a request for free assistance involves a viable invention, a screening panel reviews inventors’ applications filed with the USPTO to ensure that the innovations described are not impossible (like a “perpetual motion machine”) and could be capable of being patented. Also, a requirement that an applicant already have filed a provisional application helps ensure that the inventor has developed the innovation beyond the “I’ve got an idea” stage—and does not expect an attorney to provide a viable framework for a patentable (and marketable) invention that the inventor cannot.
What is the difference between a provisional patent application and a non-provisional application?
A provisional patent application is less costly to file and easier to file because there is no requirement to include portion called the ”claims” in this kind of filing. However, there are many requirements, including a special cover letter. See the USPTO publication “Provisional Application for Patent.”
It also is important to know that:
- The life of a provisional patent application is one year.
- No patent will be issued from a provision filing.
- The USPTO will not examine a provisional application.
- The inventor has one year to get a non-provisional, or regular, utility patent application on file that would claim the benefit of the earlier filing date of the provisional application.
A non-provisional, or regular utility type, patent application is more costly to file. And has many more requirements. See the USPTO “Nonprovisional (Utility) Patent Application Filing Guide.” This application must have at least one claim. A USPTO patent examiner will review this kind of application. The examiner will communicate with the person who filed the application and send out “office actions” relevant to the application.
Why must I fill out an inventor information form?The program administrator and the case screeners need to know—in general terms—the subject matter of the invention. This assists in matching an eligible inventor with an attorney with the proper technical background.
Why do you ask who else helped conceive of this invention idea?Mitchell Hamline needs to know if there could be questions regarding ownership of the invention. If there is some question, we might recruit a volunteer attorney for advice on this question before we match an eligible inventor with a patent attorney.
Why do you ask whom I’ve worked with for the past three years?Companies have proprietary rights in inventions conceived by their employees during their work hours that are related to the employees’ work for the companies.
Why must I sign a confidentiality agreement?If an inventor’s patent application has not been published by the USPTO, we ask an eligible inventor to sign such an agreement and to share with Mitchell Hamline the contents of a filed but unpublished patent application (staff of the Upper Midwest Patent Assistance also sign the confidentiality agreement).
Why does Mitchell Hamline ask about prior confidentiality agreements, non-compete agreements or the like signed by the inventor?Mitchell Hamline needs to know if there are others already engaged to do work on this invention or if there is a question about ownership of the invention. The inventor might advice advice on this question before we match an eligible inventor with a patent attorney.
Why won’t Mitchell Hamline provide assistance with patent litigation?The Upper Midwest Patent Assistance Program’s scope of services does not include litigation. Its mission includes only transactional assistance for low-income inventors, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations. Its volunteers are not litigators.