by Kelly Rayburn
Securing a patent is challenging, and many lawyers and inventors say the cost of hiring an attorney is the most significant barrier. Big companies with big budgets hire the representation they need, but independent inventors can get left out. The California Inventors Assistance Program was designed to ensure that no good invention goes without a patent for want of legal help.
"It's an incredibly complicated area of law," says Erik Metzger, an attorney with chip maker Intel who is among dozens of attorneys participating pro bono in the program. "It's daunting even for someone like me who's licensed to practice in this area."
The fledgling program has helped almost 90 inventors in California and nearby states.
"These people call every week," says David Jordan of Fish & Richardson, another volunteer. " 'Is my patent here yet? Is my patent here yet?' It's more than just an invention for them. It's their hope. It's their future."
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office tapped California Lawyers for the Arts to administer the state program, which is part of a nationwide effort launched in 2011 under the America Invents Act (Pub. L. No. 112-79). So far, clients have sought patents on everything from improved wind turbines to better doggy diapers.
It's a boon not just for the inventors, but also for patent lawyers, who don't often see relevant volunteer opportunities. "It can be tough for patent attorneys to find pro bono work because our area of expertise is so narrow," says Benjamin A. Kimes, an attorney in Lowenstein Sandler's Palo Alto office. "The level of help I can give in other areas (of the law) is not nearly what it is if I'm doing pro bono work in patent law."
Inventors seeking legal representation can visit www.fedcirbar.org or contact California Lawyers for the Arts at 888/775-8995. Attorney volunteers can contact Bob Pimm at email@example.com.