Do you want to help save the world and get on the patent prosecution highway at the same time?

The deadline to enter the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s 2014 Patents for Humanity competition is quickly approaching. Entries are due by Sept. 15, 2014, with the winners being announced the following spring.

First launched in 2012 as a pilot program, the successful competition aims to offer incentives to companies to develop patentable technologies to address humanitarian needs around the globe. Along with goodwill publicity, the competition offers winners the opportunity for Track 1 examination to speed up select patent prosecution matters with the USPTO. The 2014 contest categories are: medicine, nutrition, sanitation, household energy, and living standards.

In announcing renewal of the program, the USPTO said it expects to select about 10 winners “who will receive public recognition and an acceleration certificate to expedite select proceedings at the USPTO. Honorable mentions will also be awarded with a more limited certificate to accelerate a patent application of the recipient’s choosing.”

First, though, winners must submit an invention that can help save the world—technology and ideas that are desperately needed now, more than ever before.

The needs may not seem that urgent.

It is easy to take clean, potable water for granted. Yet, more than 2.5 billion people still do not have the luxury of turning a knob in their bathroom or kitchen and seeing a stream of drinkable water pour from a faucet, and nearly 4 million people die from exposure to waterborne diseases every year.

That is the landscape that confronted three entrants in the 2013 Patents for Humanity competition; inventors who wanted to support further improvements that the World Health Organization says have improved access to clean water for more than 2 billion people since 1990.

In response to the USPTO’s challenge, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory submitted a water purification technology that uses ultraviolet light to provide clean drinking water to more than 5 million people in eastern and central India. The technology is estimated to cost only $10 over the lifetime of each person it serves.

Enterprise Works, a division of Relief International, developed a compact, low-cost rainwater cistern that can be implemented at almost any location in the world that receives measurable rainfall, regardless of whatever water access or water purification infrastructure may be available. The rainwater collection and storage system, called “bob,” weighs just a few pounds when empty but can store more than 300 gallons of potable water. It sells for just over $50 and is being made available throughout eastern Africa.

The winning entry, from Proctor & Gamble, was a small, inexpensive packet of powder which can be stirred into dirty water to remove all pathogenic microorganisms and potentially hazardous suspended materials. The packets are estimated to provide clean drinking water at a cost of 2 cents per person, per day through the company’s “Children’s Safe Drinking Water” initiative.

In all, the 2013 Patents for Humanity contest yielded 10 winners and six honorable mentions, and attracted entrants from other well-known companies, including Microsoft and GE.

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