Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Senate Passage of the Patents for Humanity Program Improvement Act, S.1402

Today, the Senate passed legislation to strengthen an important humanitarian innovation prize created by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).  Since 2012, the Patents for Humanity Award has recognized selected patent holders who use their inventions to address humanitarian needs.  The legislation the Senate passed today will strengthen the award program and encourage innovators to continue using their work for humanitarian goals.

The innovations that are recognized by the Patents for Humanity Award program help underserved people throughout the world.  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.  Winners of the Patents for Humanity Award demonstrate that our patent system does more than drive economic gain for individual companies; it can incentivize research and discoveries that promote humanitarian good.   

Winners of the Patents for Humanity Award receive a one-time certificate to accelerate a process or application at the PTO, as described in the program rules.  For several years, small businesses and global health groups have told me that the prize would be more usable, particularly for small business innovators, if the acceleration certificates awarded were transferable to a third party.  Award winners who are not able to use the acceleration certificate themselves will be able to transfer the certificate to another inventor, including through sale, allowing the winner to receive a cash benefit.  By making the certificates transferable, we are increasing the value of this humanitarian innovation prize without using a single taxpayer dollar.

The thoughtful structure of the Patents for Humanity Award program, set forth in its founding documents in the Federal Register, will ensure that this program remains sustainable and does not unduly burden the PTO or other patent applicants whose applications are pending before the Office.  The award is granted to only a select number of patent holders per year – approximately 10 or fewer, with a further 20 applications receiving honorable mentions – and the PTO has provided clear guidance on the types of processes for which the certificates may be used.  Program judges are selected based on recognized subject matter expertise, with clear competition criteria, and rules in place to prevent conflicts of interest.  These practices and safeguards, which are described in detail in the Federal Register at 79 Fed. Reg. 18670 and 77 Fed. Reg. 6544, will ensure that the program continues to operate appropriately and well.  

The Patents for Humanity Program Improvement Act is a straightforward and bipartisan bill that will strengthen this valuable innovation program and encourage inventions to be used for humanitarian good.  I thank other Senators for supporting this bill, and urge the House to pass it without delay.

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