Senators Leahy and Coons have introduced the Patents for Humanity Program Improvement Act of 2012 (S. 3652). The bill is relatively minor and will be an uncontroversial extension of the Humanitarian Awards Pilot Program created by the Patent Office earlier in 2012.
A bit of background, the Patents for Humanity program is an incentive program intended to encourage the use of patented technologies to help alleviate poverty and suffering. The incentive is a bit like the (perhaps outgoing) charitable donation tax break. However, instead of offering a direct monetary reward the PTO has offered an accelerated examination certificate. According to the implementation rules, the certificate can be used to accelerate either an ex parte reexamination proceeding (including an appeal to the Board) or else an appeal to the Board (PTAB) in an ordinary application or reissue. A group of designated experts will soon be selecting the first group of up to 50 winners.
It is a bit unclear what this acceleration certificate is worth, but at least several thousand dollars and perhaps more – especially for someone going through ex parte reexamination or reissue. However, there is no guarantee that the winner will have a need to use the certificate.
The legislation provides a mechanism for an award winner to turn the accelerated examination award into cash. In particular, statutory provision states that "A holder of an acceleration certificate issued pursuant to the Patents for Humanity Program … or any successor thereto … may transfer (including by sale) the entitlement to such acceleration certificate to another person."
Regarding the Bill, Director Kappos writes: "If the bill is enacted, recipients of a Patents for Humanity award could sell their certificate on the open market, turning their good deeds into operating capital."
In a press release associated with the Bill, Senator Leahy writes:
Following a Judiciary Committee hearing in June, I asked Director Kappos whether the program would be more effective, and more attractive to patent owners, if the acceleration certificate were transferable to a third party. He responded that it would, particularly for small businesses. The Patents for Humanity Program Improvement Act of 2012 simply makes these acceleration certificates transferable.
Director Kappos described the Patents for Humanity Program as one that provides business incentives for humanitarian endeavors. All Senators should support both the approach and the objective.
This bill is uncontroversial and has a strong likelihood of passage as long as Senator Leahy pushes it forward and Representative Lamar Smith agrees with its importance.