Leahy & Grassley Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Encourage The Humanitarian Work Of American Innovators

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, May 20, 2015) – Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Wednesday introduced bipartisan legislation to encourage and reward the use of patented technology to address humanitarian needs.  The bipartisan introduction comes as the Judiciary Committee is poised to consider broader legislation to improve the patent system and support innovation.

The Patents for Humanity Program Improvement Act builds on an existing award program at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that recognizes patent holders who use their technology to improve the health and quality of life in impoverished nations.  The legislation improves the incentives for small businesses to participate in the program, by ensuring that the prize – a certificate for expedited processing of certain matters at USPTO – can be transferable to third parties.

“Our patent system drives developments that benefit us all, in our country and throughout the world,” said Leahy, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “As we seek to strengthen our patent system by rooting out bad actors, we should also support those who are applying their intellectual property to address global humanitarian needs.  I hope all Senators will join me in supporting this important goal.”

“This bill enhances the Patent and Trademark Office’s Patents for Humanity program which rewards patent holders focusing their technologies for humanitarian purposes,” said Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  “This will incentivize innovators to work on worthy projects that improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities around the world.”

Innovators and nonprofits working in global health technologies praised Wednesday’s release of the bill, which was previously introduced by Leahy in the 112th and 113th Congresses.

Leahy and Grassley are also bipartisan coauthors with other leading Senators of the PATENT Act, a bill to protect businesses and innovators who too often become the victims of so-called “patent trolls.” The legislation was the result of two years of negotiations with Republicans, Democrats, and a range of stakeholders. The Judiciary Committee is expected to begin consideration of the PATENT Act in the coming weeks.

Additional background on the USPTO’s Patents for Humanity Program of 2015 is available online. Text of the bill introduced by Leahy and Grassley today is also available online.

Information about the PATENTS Act is also available online.

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Innovators Praise Bipartisan Patents for Humanity Program Improvement Act

By incentivizing first-time inventors and researchers to apply their work to humanitarian needs, the Patents for Humanity Improvement Act presents a no-cost, common sense way to encourage continued innovation in global health. This bill improves upon the Patents for Humanity Program by allowing cost acceleration awards to be transferred, widening the pool of potential innovators and lifesaving new tools.  We hope the Judiciary Committee will act quickly to move this no-cost common sense legislation forward,” said Erin Will Morton, Director of the Global Health Technologies Coalition, a group of more than 25 nonprofit organizations working to raise awareness of the role of health technologies in saving lives in the developing world.

“The Patents for Humanity Award is the highest recognition of its kind and has helped our startup immeasurably. I support the Patents for Humanity Program Improvement Act, allowing for transfer of an acceleration certificate issued pursuant to the Patents for Humanity Program to another person. Through a vast number of mechanisms (e.g. assignment, acquisition, reorganization, etc.) the holder of the acceleration certificate may be unable to use the certificate. In making the certificate transferable, we can ensure that the certificate will be put to full use,” said Stephen Katsaros, chief executive officer of Nokero, whose company received an award in 2013 for delivering solar-powered light bulbs and phone chargers for off-grid villages through local entrepreneurs. 

“The Patents for Humanity program advances the president’s global development agenda by rewarding companies who bring life-saving technologies to underserved people of the world. We strongly support this legislation, which would make the award certificates transferable, so that winners could give them to a third party,” said Alden Zecha, chief financial officer of Sproxil, whose company won an award in 2013 for a technology that helps individuals in sub-Saharan Africa avoid buying counterfeit drugs.

“The Patents for Humanity program provides recognition to organizations that are improving the lives of those who are economically disadvantaged, by providing technological solutions to the world’s poor in the fields of medicine, energy, food, sanitation and information technology. The Patents for Humanity Program Improvement Act will increase interest in the program and will stimulate additional investments where the need is great, but the incentives to invest are few,” said Carol Mimura, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Intellectual Property & Industry Research Alliances (IPIRA) at the University of California, Berkeley. 

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