Patents for Humanity

The patent system is sometimes frustrating to policymakers because of its market approach to invention. Innovators and investors decide the focus of research – not policymakers. As such, we tend to see research investment in areas of market value rather than areas that serve humanity in a broader or more altruistic sense. Now, these notions of market incentives and advancing humanism often overlap. A cure for cancer would serve humanity, but would be quite valuable in the marketplace as well. But, the point is that – with the patent system – the decision making is normally well outside of the control of policymakers.

When the government has specific technological advancement goals, it tends to choose non-patent development mechanisms such as finding a contractor to develop the technology, offering a grant to researchers, or perhaps offering a prize for successful development.

In a recent release, the USPTO and White House have announced a new hybrid program to provide an additional patent incentive for inventors who "do the most to apply their technologies to pressing global challenges." The way the program operates is that do-good inventors (and corporate patent owners) will receive an award certificate that can be used to accelerate the prosecution any patent application in their portfolio (a $4,800 value).

Through this initiative, the USPTO seeks to reward inventors who show that they have used their patented technologies to significantly address public health quality or to advance scientific research on neglected humanitarian issues. Such technologies may include life-saving medicines and vaccines, medical diagnostic equipment, more nutritious or heartier crops, food storage & preservation technology, water sterilization devices, cleaner sources of household light and heat, or information devices promoting literacy and education, among others. Awardees will be chosen by judges selected from academia for their expertise in medicine, law, science, engineering, public policy, or a related field.

Submissions will begin on March 1 and up to 50 winners will be chosen this calendar year.