Announcement Description

To help promote and encourage participation in pro bono programs by all members of the IP profession; to support the Pro Bono Advisory Council, the USPTO Pro Bono Coordinator, and regional pro bono programs in strengthening the delivery of pro bono services across the country; to collaborate in the development of pro bono best practices; to help disseminate information about the value of IP pro bono.


The Special Committee on Pro Bono met during the AIPLA Annual Meeting.  The principal objective of the meeting was to host a session of the AIA Pro Bono Advisory Council.  The Pro Bono Advisory Council was established with the support of the USPTO to support the establishment and growth of patent pro bono programs throughout the country.  AIPLA is an active member of the Pro Bono Advisory Council and is a signatory to its charter.  Five AIPLA Fellows – Greg Allen, Patrick Coyne, Nick Godici, Georgann Grunebach, and Jim Ruland – have served as advisors to the Pro Bono Advisory Council on governance, structure, and procedures. 

The principal speaker at the committee meeting was Jennifer McDowell, the USPTO’s outgoing Pro Bono Coordinator (a position established in 2014 as part of President Obama’s Executive Action on patent matters).  Jennifer reported that there were now eighteen regional programs covering all 50 states.  She also reported that, at the urging of the Pro Bono Advisory Council, a new nonprofit corporation was being formed to provide executive level guidance and assistance to the regional programs and the USPTO.  While the new non-profit may ultimately supplant the current Pro Bono Advisory Council, it was decided that the Council should remain intact for at least the next two years to allow the new nonprofit to get firmly established.  The Special Committee on Pro Bono will work with both bodies, and will place particular emphasis on assisting with educational activities.

John Kirkpatrick, the incoming USPTO Pro Bono Coordinator, also attended the meeting and was introduced to the committee members. He reported that the USPTO’s support for the patent pro bono program remained strong.  He also stated that the program was now being housed in the USPTO’s Office of Enrollment and Discipline (OED), the same office that administers the Law School Clinic Certification Program.

The Special Committee on Pro Bono will not meet during the AIPLA Mid-Winter Institute, but it hopes to highlight some of the successful pro bono programs and successful inventors who came through the programs when it meets at the Spring Meeting.



Ethical issues in patent pro bono, especially managing subject matter/similarity conflicts and limiting the scope of representation.

The possibility of pro bono malpractice claims and exploring ways to ensure that no pro bono program is denied access to malpractice insurance.

Managing through capacity issues of pro bono clients, and understanding the needs of pro bono recipients.

Whether, and if so how, the work of the committee should expand to include all areas of IP.



This link provides access to and information about every state's patent pro bono program.



Patent Law Pro Bono:  A Best Practices Handbook, by Amy Salmela and Mark Privratsky (published in Cybaris, the William Mitchell Intellectual Property Law Journal) is an excellent how-to guide for establishing and successfully maintaining a patent pro bono program.