Senate Passes Leahy Bill To Encourage The Humanitarian Work Of American Innovators

WASHINGTON (Friday, May 27, 2016) – The Senate this week passed legislation introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to encourage and reward the use of patented technology to address humanitarian needs. 

The Patents for Humanity Program Improvement Act, which Leahy has championed for several years, supports an 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.

“The innovations that are recognized by the Patents for Humanity Award program help underserved people throughout the world,” Leahy said.  “The legislation the Senate passed this week will strengthen the award program and encourage innovators to continue using their work for humanitarian goals.”

Previous winners of the Patents for Humanity Award winners have worked to improve nutrition, provide clean drinking water, fix broken bones in remote hospitals that lack x-ray technology, bring solar-powered energy to villages that are off the power grid, and combat the problem of dangerous counterfeit drugs, among other achievements.  The USPTO expects to announce the next round of award winners in June.

Additional background on the USPTO’s Patents for Humanity Program is available online.  Senator Leahy’s full remarks are also available online.

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Support for The 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.” – 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. 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.” –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.” – 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.” – Carol Mimura, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Intellectual Property & Industry Research Alliances (IPIRA) at the University of California, Berkeley

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