As an individual or small business inventor, do you feel really, really small?  The good news: after March 16, 2013 you may qualify as a ‘micro entity’ and be entitled to patent fee discounts from the PTO of 75% off large entity rates.  The bad news: large and small entity rates are going up at the PTO.

An application is subject to reduced ‘micro entity‘ fees if all of the inventors or inventions owners can certify to the following:

1. The applicant or inventor is a ‘small entity;’ that is, the applicant generally has fewer than 500 employees.

2. The applicant or inventor is named as an inventor on no more than four prior utility patent applications, not counting provisional applications, applications in foreign countries, or applications assigned to a previous employer.

3. Neither the applicant nor a person to whom the applicant had a duty to assign the invention had a gross income of not more than three times the median household income for the year prior to the filing date and the applicant is not obligated to assign the invention to a person with an income greater than that amount.  The PTO cites 2011 U.S. Census Bureau statistics for a median household income of $50,054.00. The maximum gross income of the ‘micro entity’ applicant therefore cannot exceed $150,162.00.  The gross income ceiling effectively limits  micro entity status to individual inventors.

A false micro entity certification is fraud on the patent office and will invalidate any resulting patent and likely lead to sanctions against any patent attorneys or agents involved.  An honest mistake can be rectified upon submission of appropriate certifications and payment of the fees owed.

Colleges and universities automatically qualify as ‘micro entities’ without meeting the above criteria.  An employee of a college or university also qualifies without meeting the above qualifications.

Qualifying as a ‘micro entity’ will be valuable.   After March 16, 2013.  The filing fees to file a new utility patent application with the PTO for a large entity will be $1,600.00.  A ‘small entity’ (fewer than 500 employees) will pay $800.00.  A ‘micro entity’ will pay $400.00. The PTO estimates that 31% of applications will be filed by ‘micro entities.’

–Robert Yarbrough, Esq.