The breakneck pace of innovation and the increased importance of intellectual property for companies doing business in the U.S. has not necessarily been good news for small manufacturers and independent inventors who have sometimes felt as though their access to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was being crowded out by larger players. Addressing this imbalance was among the aims of the many changes ushered in by the America Invents Act of 2011, which included a set of provisions to facilitate USPTO access for small companies and individual inventors.
The small and micro entity section of the AIA defined a discounted fee structure for qualifying companies and inventors. Under the new fee structure, which went into effect on March 19, 2013, the costs for filing, searching, examining, issuing, appealing and maintaining patent applications and patents were reduced by 50 percent for qualified “small entities” and by 75 percent for “micro entities.”
“Small” entities as defined by the USPTO are not necessarily that small: they may include businesses with up to 500 employees. Higher-education institutions and some nonprofit organizations may also qualify for the designation.
To be a “micro entity,” a patent application must meet the “small entity” criteria, but must have a gross annual income that is no greater than three times the amount of the U.S. median household income from the previous year. The median household income in the U.S. in June 2014 was $53,891. If the applicant is under any obligation to license or transfer any resulting patent to a larger, non-qualifying entity, they are also ineligible for the special fee structure.
Additionally, some existing patent holders may not qualify for “micro entity” status, even if the size of their operation or their household income otherwise would meet the USPTO criteria. Any individual who has been named on four previously filed applications is ineligible for “micro entity” pricing, regardless of any other considerations.
The discounted fee structure was welcome news to smaller and independent inventors who are typically under pressure to do more with less.
That operational paradigm is well understood by the developers of LexisNexis PatentAdvisor. Conceived and designed by a patent attorney who sought to develop greater efficiency in his interactions with the USPTO, PatentAdvisor is a valuable tool for small inventors.
PatentAdvisor provides independent inventors and companies with freshly updated and detailed information on the historical tendencies and performance of the examiner who is working on their applications, the other examiners in their USPTO art unit, and the operation of that art unit as a whole.
With PatentAdvisor, inventors can not only review the status of their own applications but place it within the wider context of all the similar inventions and applications that have previously been allowed, rejected or stand at other stages of the patent examination process.