Patents for Humanity Announced at White House Event

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, January 24, 2012.

In the annual State of the Union Address President Obama explained: “Innovation is what America has always been about.”  Today the Obama Administration took major steps forward to collaboratively work with private industry to tap American ingenuity to assist in a world-wide humanitarian effort.  The United States government will work with the private sector, universities, and non-profits to foster game-changing innovations with the potential to solve long-standing development challenges in health, food security and environmental sustainability.

I had the honor of being invited to the White House today for the Innovation for Global Development Event, which was held in support of the President’s commitment to using harness the power of innovation to solve long-standing global development challenges.  As a part of this event, David Kappos, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, launched a pilot program dubbed Patents for Humanity, which is a voluntary prize competition for patent owners and licensees.  The pilot program seeks to encourage businesses of all kinds to apply their patented technology to addressing the world’s humanitarian challenges.

As an incentive to participate in the Patents for Humanity pilot program winners will be rewarded with a certificate that can be used to accelerate a patent application, an appeal, or an ex parte reexamination proceeding before the USPTO. Up to 50 winners will be chosen as a part of this pilot program.  The award winners may choose to accelerate any patent application in their portfolio, not just the humanitarian technology that qualifies for the award.

Those wishing to participate in the Patents for Humanity pilot program will submit applications from March 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012.  At this time the link for downloading the applications is not yet live and takes you to an error page saying “this page does not exist,” thus I cannot relay exactly what the application entails, or what participants must agree to in order to participate.  Notwithstanding, we do know that applicants will be asked to describe how they have addressed humanitarian needs with their patented technology.

This 12-month Patent for Humanity pilot has been conceived as one way to advance President Obama’s global development agenda by rewarding companies who bring life-saving technologies to underserved regions of the world, and by highlighting positive examples of humanitarian actions that are compatible with business interests and strong patent rights.

“Sweeping revolutions in technology remind us of what the innovative drive and entrepreneurial spirit can do to build a better world,” said Kappos. “This pilot program underscores that in the face of some of the most daunting challenges humans confront on this planet, the power to innovate is the power to lead by design and by solution.”

The pilot will be run as a prize competition for applicants that have leveraged their patented technology to significantly address public health or quality of life issues faced by an impoverished population. By demonstrating how they have contributed a patented technology to advance scientific research on neglected humanitarian issues, organizations will be awarded with the acceleration certificate of faster patenting processing in matters before the USPTO.

The acceleration certificate the winners will receive may be used to: move a “patent re-examination proceeding” to the front of the queue; move a patent appeal case in front of the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) to the front of the queue; or accelerate the examination of a patent to ensure a final decision on the application within 12 months.

Judges will be selected from academia for their expertise in medicine, law, science, engineering, public policy, or a related field—and will evaluate applications in four categories: Medical, Food and Nutrition, Clean Technology, and Information Technology. Types of technologies eligible for consideration within the program will work to confront global challenges including life-saving medical diagnostic equipment, water sterilization devices, mosquito control, and land mine detection, among others.

The first 1,000 applications received that meet the competition criteria will be considered by the judges, with each application reviewed by three judges working independently. Diversity of contributions will be a consideration as the pilot program seeks to highlight success stories across all types of technologies, organizations, and practices.

In addition to the diversity consideration, three neutrality principles will apply.  First, evaluations are technology-neutral, meaning inventions from any field of technology which address the competition criteria will be considered.  Second, the program is geographically-neutral, meaning that the targeted impoverished population may be located anywhere in the world.  Finally, decisions will be financially-neutral so that any means of getting technology to those in need may qualify without regard to financial consideration.

Also at today’s event, Global Access in Action, in partnership with Baker & McKenzie, announced plans to develop and implement a program to educate patent holders and their lawyers about humanitarian use licenses for life-saving intellectual property.  Additionally, the American Bar Association is also promoting Patents for Humanity by encouraging participation.  The National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy also separately announced new programs to expedite and facilitate transfers of global health and clean energy technologies to not-for-profit institutions.

Also announced at the event was the beginning of a collaborative effort between NIH and the private sector to create a free online disease database called Global Health Connect that will bring disparate databases and research together.  The hope is that merging disparate databases researchers will be able to access better, more complete information quickly, which will accelerate the development of lifesaving treatments to combat the neglected tropical diseases that afflict many of the world’s most impoverished.

Along with its partners, USDA also launched GRIN-Global, a plant genebank information management system that enables researchers to more efficiently source crop breeding material with specific traits.  USDA also announced a partnership with CABI Plantwise to increase food security by decreasing crop losses in 19 countries through Internet-connected “plant doctors.”

In a tangential related story, yesterday President Obama welcomed students to the White House for the White House Science Fair.  The President even participated in a demonstration of an air cannon, shown in the video below.

Whether you like President Obama or not, and whether you plan on voting him in for a second term, it is hard not to notice that his science and innovation agenda has been exceptionally strong, and if you ask me the best thing he or anyone else can do is spend time encouraging our children to pursue scientific studies. If we stoke the fire of imagination and encourage dreaming and imagination those students will grow up to become the engineers and scientists of tomorrow, some of whom will have Hall of Fame careers. We need more Hall of Fame caliber inventors, and that has to start with our youth.

Yes, I would have preferred the President not to dismantle the space program like he did, and the abuse of federal money going toward failing alternative energy companies is inexcusable, but the federal government has always invested in technologies for the future. Government involvement in encouraging technological advancement is hardly new and is the backbone of the extremely success Bayh-Dole legislation, for example.

Under the capable leadership of David Kappos the Patent Office is operating at a high level once again.  His commitment to alternative forms of energy will pay dividends in the future and we will likely look back to his time in office as the start of what will eventually be a renewable energy economy; whenever that might scientifically be feasible it has to start somewhere, and it has started now.  And as President Bush was committed to investing in Africa to help the most impoverished fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases, President Obama’s team continues to facilitate collaboration with the private sector to address vexing global health issues, which is certainly commendable.

I tip my hat to the White House and everyone involved in today’s event and everyone who will play a part in bringing this vision into being.


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Join the Discussion

9 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    February 9, 2012 08:19 pm


    How sad. The purpose of patents as initially envisioned was to Create new arts and crafts, and to promote free exchanges of information. You would seem to like to relegate the whole concept to history, but I would dare to say that History will very quickly forget what you Had to say in the matter. Why in the world would you insist upon eliminating patents? A new world goofed up order or something? An inquiring mind would Really like to know where you are trying to go with this.

    Let me guess… You are a very bossy lady, and mostly don’t have the slightest clue what you are trying to talk about. Well get a clue Gerta, you can be sued six ways from Sunday if you don’t know what you are doing or talking about! Opinions are free, but any sort of contract negotiations just suddenly got multiplied by at least three. Sounds as if you need lots of luck, but no sympathy here!

    If you really believe patents are only for the wealthy, you would seem to be a bit delusional to me. No… Wait- You had someone tell you that inventing was a King’s Sport, and that you were mostly doomed if you tried to make a profit. If you really believe what they are telling you, it will probably become true. Meanwhile Ron Riley will swoop on your ass and try to tell you exactly why you have failed. Tell me I am wrong if you can, but I fear that I am right on the beam

  • [Avatar for Renee Marie Jones]
    Renee Marie Jones
    February 9, 2012 07:15 pm

    The sole effect of patents is to enrich the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. If you want to help humanity, you eliminate patents, you don’t encourage them.

  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    February 9, 2012 01:40 pm

    I just got a PTO notice of this program this morning, and they have a page up for it now.
    I got my question answered about who is eligible for the program, and it turns out pending applications are going to be considered as well. Yay! I avoided the Green Tech gambit because it required publication, but if I am lucky enough to win an award, I will be able to fast track the app, so publication becomes a moot issue. David has a video appearence on the page, and it might be interesting to hear what he has to say.


  • [Avatar for EG]
    February 9, 2012 12:26 pm

    I would feel better about “Patents for Humanity” if the Obama administration and especially Congress would focus as much attention on the system (i.e., USPTO) which will examine those patents. Instead, what got is the AIA (Abominable Inane Act) which has wrought and is about to, for example, through the proposed fee changes (see other thread), great harm to that system which won’t be made up through “Patents for Humanity.”

  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    February 8, 2012 05:41 pm

    Great video! I love the part where the inventor suggests that they swivel the air gun a few degrees so the Marshmallow won’t “hit a picture poster” a few yards distant. Very cool invention! I am reminded of very long barreled guns experimented with in the past, where they used manifolds to inject propulsive gases into the barrel at staged intervals to increase the velocity of the projectile.

    This later evolved into a proposed type of electro-mechanical sort of launch system, that might have a rail that is say 3 miles long, and would be capable of launching Care and supply packages to the International Space Station. Even fairly low altitude launch systems could be of great value, if they were caught and launched to the required altitude by a rotating space tether sort of system.


  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    February 8, 2012 04:38 pm

    Initially they used Quinine to to mitigate some ot the symptoms of Malaria during WWIi, and then tried to genetically modify the Anopholese mosquito so they were sterile. It didn’t work, as the new mosquitos just out-invented the folks at the time by evolving very quickly. Your basic design-around sort of thing.

    Bill has the advantage of a very innovative genetic research industry here, and probably personal contacts with a few of them over the years. They seem to have finally out-evolved the moving target, by creating a vaccine that sort of *anticipates* where the virus might try to evolve towards next. Just heresay of course, but perhaps a suggestion. Just getting really clean water to a very large population is a huge challenge, which some of the more industrialized countries could help with a Lot, and maybe even create a few really good jobs right here in River City.

  • [Avatar for Ron Q. Dry, Pseudonymous Docketing Guy]
    Ron Q. Dry, Pseudonymous Docketing Guy
    February 8, 2012 04:13 pm

    Thanks for this, and hear, hear! (Or is it, here, here?) There are so few feel-good stories popping up in my news reader of late, that when I do see one, I feel the need to log in & say, “Yeah!”…

    Also, I thought that you & your readers might be interested to know that if you’d like to make your own air cannon like the one featured in the video you’ve posted, the young inventor in question has posted a really good set of instructions over at the thoroughly excellent ( Amaze your friends/president! Smite your enemies*! Wooo!!!

    Ron Q. Dry, Pseudonymous Docketing Guy

    *No, just kidding. The ammunition used (marshmallows) and the pressure obtained (30 pounds/square inch) by this device are probably not sufficient for a good, old-fashioned, Old Testament-style smiting. Also, it’s probably better to engage one’s adversaries with civil, if spirited, debate, rather than homemade artillery. So, no, PLEASE DON’T use your Extreme Marshmallow Cannon to smite your enemies.
    Still and all, it does look like a fun build, and it’s on my list of weekend projects to attempt should I ever get caught up on the chores that I need to get done around the house…

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    February 8, 2012 04:08 pm


    You have to watch the video. “A kid in a candy shop” is the perfect description of how President Obama appears. He also talked to the 8th grader in a very down to earth way. You can tell he is a father with young children.

    Stay tuned for more coverage on global health initiatives. I’m working on more!


  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    February 8, 2012 03:55 pm


    What an exciting new program, and congratulations for getting invited to the presentation! It really is a huge asset to us all to have a thoughtful witness to events like this, and your publication of your excellent recent series of interviews with the current management at the USPTO. If you haven’t seen it yet, I just got a notice this morning about the fee proposals from the USPTO, which seems to be remarkably well done in my opinion. The executive summary gives an excellent overview, and has links to the other 4 documents submitted to the PPAC.

    Thanks a million for letting us know about this, as the program seems to be right up my alley. Sounds as if pending formal applications will be eligible? I’m not sure if applications will work, but your mention of getting a fast track treatment for free would seem to say yes. The health initiative is very interesting, as Bill Gates has spent many millions out of pocket since he retired to combat malaria for one thing, and that have already gotten a 30% reduction in malaria cases in Africa if I recall it correctly, after only a year and a half or so.

    I haven’t watched the video just yet, but Barack sure looks a lot like a kid in a candy shop in the thumbnail of the video! How can an inventor not like that, or even a patent attorney or agent for that matter?