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Higher Education Associations Comment on USPTO “Micro Entity” Rules

August 3, 2012—The AAMC and three other higher education associations July 27 asked the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to modify its proposed requirements for “micro entities” filing patent applications.  Patent reform legislation enacted in 2011—the America Invents Act (AIA, P.L. 112-29) [see Washington Highlights, Sept. 9, 2011]—included a provision permitting universities and other micro entities, defined in the legislation, to pay reduced fees for patent applications.  In May, the USPTO issued a proposed rule to implement the AIA’s micro entity provisions.

In their joint letter, the AAMC, the Council on Governmental Relations, the Association of American Universities, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities commend the USPTO for clarifying and moving swiftly on the micro entity provision, but call for further modifications in the rule to accommodate university patenting practices.  For example, the USPTO’s proposed rule would require that applicants for patents be employees of the university or other micro entity; however, in many instances the university or academic institution itself is the applicant for the patent (faculty are usually listed as inventors).  The associations propose new language to adjust the rule to reflect such circumstances.

The associations also note that many academic institutions rely on separate, non-profit foundations to patent inventions resulting from faculty-led research.  As USPTO interprets the statute, these foundations themselves are not included under the definition of micro entity, and would not benefit from reduced patent application fees.  The associations’ letter urges the USPTO to expand the scope of the definition to include such institutions. 

The USPTO’s micro entity rules are not the most significant requirements being developed to implement the AIA.  On July 24, the agency issued its proposed rule and examination guidelines in switching the US patent system from a “first-to-invent” to “first-inventor-to-file” system in assigning priority for patent applications, the signature reform of the patent bill.  Comments on those guidelines are due Oct. 5, 2012.


Stephen Heinig
Director, Science Policy
Telephone: 202-828-0488

Heather Pierce, JD, MPH
Sr. Director, Science Policy & Regulatory Counsel
Telephone: 202-478-9926


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