By Dennis Crouch
We have begun the week designated as "National Pro Bono Week." Most state attorney ethics rules indicate that "every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services unable to pay." See ABA Model Rule 6.1. In its proposed ethics rules, the USPTO suggested no need to adopt the ABA Model Rules regarding public service.
The USPTO recognizes that every practitioner, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay and that every practitioner should support all proper efforts to meet this need for legal services. However, attorney practitioners' individual state ethical rules should provide guidance and regulations regarding their respective duties to provide voluntary pro bono service, accept court appointed representation, and serve as members of legal service and legal reform organizations. The USPTO is declining to add an increased regulatory requirement on attorney practitioners.
Unfortunately, this statement by the PTO neglects the reality that a large number of PTO practitioners are not lawyers but are patent agents.
The America Invents Act (AIA) does include a directive requiring the USPTO to help establish patent pro bono programs. In their recent article, Amy Salmela and Mark Privratski go through one approach to a patent prosecution pro bono program that they helped to create in Minneapolis. See Patent Law Pro Bono: A Best Practices Handbook. The Federal Circuit Bar Association (FCBA) has also announced its new role as the "National Clearinghouse" for receiving information from individuals and businesses interested in receiving pro bono assistance in the Virginia and Maryland area. See www.fedcirbar.org/ptoprobono. Other regional patent pro bono operations are beginning around the country.