By Jason Rantanen
As part of the America Invents Act, Congress created the new "micro entity" category of patent applicants. See Public Law 112-29, 125 Stat. 283, Section 10(g) (2011). Similar to small entity status, micro entities are entitled to a reduction of patent application fees (75% for micro entities versus 50% for small entities). "Micro entity" is a bit of a misnomer: an applicant can qualify as a micro entity either by having an income of less than three times the median household income (approximately $50,000 based on 2010 incomes) or by being under an obligation to assign or license the application to an institution of higher education. The latter route might be particularly attractive to universities, as it enables micro entity status for most university-affiliated researchers.
The USPTO recently published a set of proposed regulations for establishing micro entity status. In large part, these regulations would implement the micro entity status requirements set out in the AIA, while providing some further clarification in a few areas, such as multi-inventor applications (all must meet the micro entity requirements).
The Federal Register publication also notes some complications arising due to the severance of "applicant" from "inventor." Prior to the AIA, the two terms were synonymous. After September 16, 2012, however, it is possible for an application to be made by someone other the inventor. The micro entity section of the AIA uses the term "applicant;" however, as part of the proposed rulemaking the PTO is seeking comments on whether "inventor" should be used in place of "applicant" at any point in the rules for establishing micro entity status.
Finally, keep in mind that even once these proposed rules are finalized, the discount will not be available until the PTO sets or adjusts patent fees under the fee setting authority provision of the AIA, something that it indicates will not formally occur until around March 2013.
The proposed rules are available here: Download 2012-12971 The comment deadline date is July 30, 2012.