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Patent Pro Bono Program


Quick Links:    Overview | Services | Application Process | FAQs


Section 32 of the America Invents Act requires that “The Director shall work with and support intellectual property law associations across the country in the establishment of pro bono programs designed to assist financially under-resourced independent inventors and small businesses.”  The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is working to make pro bono assistance a reality by working with and supporting many different IP law associations in their effort to make sure that no good invention is left undiscovered due to the financial inability to secure the services of a registered patent professional.

The Patent Pro Bono Programs will be individually run as regional programs available to assist inventors and small businesses in their state or region.  Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (PVLA), a program of the Arts + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, is responsible for collecting applications from inventors and small businesses and recruiting volunteer pro bono attorneys in its capacity as the regional Patent Pro Bono Program for Pennsylvania.  The USPTO’s pro bono website  provides more information about regional programs in other states.


We serve on the front lines, helping low-income inventors with patent assistance on a pro bono and low cost basis through a range of services:

Core Pro Bono Legal Services: Our experienced and passionate volunteer attorney base is available to inventors who meet our budget and income requirements.

  • Full Service Representation: PVLA volunteer lawyers take on patent matters pro-bono, subject to all of the ethical and other requirements of any attorney-client relationship.

Alternative Services: If for any reason a core pro bono legal service is not a good fit for a client.

  • Courtesy Attorney List: PVLA will issue a list of several attorneys who you may call to arrange a reduced-fee relationship
  • Educational Materials: Inquire about having patent law education materials sent to you
  • Agency Referrals: We would be happy to refer a client to another local or national agency that may be a better fit

Application Process 

Our PVLA patent service application process includes the following: (1) A Certificate of Completion of the USPTO’s patent pro bono training module; (2) Proof of income and assets; (3) A description of the invention; and (4) A nonrefundable application fee. These materials are only required if an inventor would like to apply to be matched to an attorney for pro bono legal representation or advice. These materials are unnecessary for those clients who would like to request a referral list or educational materials. Application fees may be waived upon showing of hardship.

For more details on our application process, including questions about budget and income requirements, please contact us.

Request Services from the Patent Pro Bono Program as an inventor living within Pennsylvania.

Volunteer in the Patent Pro Bono Program as a registered patent attorney in Pennsylvania.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do you provide malpractice insurance?
Generally, no. We ask that individual attorneys utilize their firm or company’s malpractice insurance.  Many firms and companies have insurance policies with a specific pro bono rider.   Attorneys should check with their firm or company prior to inquiring about PVLA coverage. With questions about PVLA coverage, contact the PVLA Director.

Do you require attorneys to be trained?
PVLA requires all new program volunteers to attend a 3-credit Continuing Legal Education (CLE) orientation course covering best practices in pro bono casework though ethics, case study and panel discussion.

How are clients referred to the PVLA’s Pro Bono Program? Applicants are encouraged to apply directly to the program by clicking on the website link above.  In addition, applicants can apply by filing out a pro bono service request form through the Federal Circuit Bar Association’s (FCBA) National Clearinghouse.   

Do clients need to know anything about the requirements for obtaining a patent?  All applicants are required to complete a certificate of training through a course offered by the USPTO that introduces the applicants to the general requirements for obtaining a patent and the general patent prosecution process.

How can I avoid a conflict of interest?   PVLA carefully screens clients through its client application process to determine all potential parties to a legal matter and provides potential volunteers with this information along with a general category of invention in order to avoid conflicts of interest.  The potential volunteers are then responsible for determining whether they have conflicts of interest. 

Are clients screened before being matched with a volunteer attorney?  All clients must meet PVLA’s screening criteria including income requirements.  The subject matter of the application may also be screened. 

Who will pay for the USPTO fees associated with representation?  Clients are responsible for all USPTO fees associated with the representation.  PVLA will provide a credit card authorization form and instructions for using the form in order for a client’s credit card to be used to authorize payment of fees at the USPTO.
What is the scope of representation on a typical case? Clients typically require help responding to Restriction Requirements, Office Actions or other official communications from the USPTO. In some cases, clients may only require help with converting a provisional application to a non-provisional application or drafting a provisional application. PVLA will specify the scope of assistance needed when matching a volunteer to the individual client.

How is the PVLA involved once a matter is placed? PVLA’s involvement ends once the PVLA administrator has matched an attorney and client, the organization's involvement ends, aside from periodic reporting requirements.  The representation relationship is between the client and the attorney.  

What if a client has worked (and paid) an attorney for prior work on the legal matter? The PVLA strives to maintain a positive and open relationship with the attorneys and firms working in its community. If a client indicates a prior attorney relationship on the same or similar legal issues, the PVLA will contact the attorney (with the permission of client) to determine whether the PVLA’s assistance is suitable.

What happens if a case needs to go to litigation?  The PVLA and the volunteer attorney’s efforts do not include representation in cases requiring litigation.  The PVLA makes this clear to prospective clients.   Often, a client seeks assistance to avert litigation.  Litigation can commence regardless of that assistance. The PVLA does not expect its volunteers to engage in the litigation portion of representation and will not bind its volunteers to such representation. Volunteers are free to represent clients during the litigation phase, but the representation will not be under the auspices of PVLA. 

What do I do once the representation is over?   The PVLA will ask the client to complete a case closing form and return it to the PVLA.  It is essential for the PVLA to collect this information to accurately report to the government, funders, the public and other stakeholders. 


Contact Rachael Nave, Esq., Director, Legal Services at 215.790.3822 or


Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts is presented
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200 South Broad Street, Suite 700 | Philadelphia, PA 19102-3896 | Tel: 215.790.3620 | PVLA: 215.790.3836 x1