Patents for Humanity Awards Ceremony at the White House

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Michelle Lee, USPTO Director earlier today.

Earlier today USPTO Director Michelle Lee handed out the latest Patents for Humanity awards at a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus.

Launched by the USPTO in February 2012 as part of an Obama administration initiative promoting game-changing innovations to solve long-standing development challenges, Patents for Humanity is a competition recognizing patent owners and licensees who address global challenges in health and standards of living.

Award recipients receive public recognition, but they will also receive a certificate to accelerate certain matters before the USPTO: a patent application, ex parte reexam, or an ex parte appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

Director Lee explained during the ceremony:

In recent years, we’ve seen the profound impact that good ideas—patented and marketed—can have on human beings, transcending national borders and transforming lives around the world. It’s because of that transformative power that we are here today. We want to showcase the laudable work of patent owners to address 21st century humanitarian challenges, and demonstrate how patents can and do help build a better world.

Consider what these award winners have been able to accomplish. They have found new and innovative ways to: combat malaria, tuberculosis, and malnutrition; improve basic sanitation;  provide light through solar power; and increase mobility for disabled people; all in some of the most disadvantaged and under-served regions of the world. And, given the global impact of our program, I think it’s especially noteworthy that among this year’s Patents for Humanity winners are foreign recipients—from France, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In addition to the very tangible benefits their inventions and those of their fellow award winners will deliver, they will also inspire others to bring the power of innovation to bear on more of the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges.

At the USPTO, we get inquiries all the time from inventors hoping to follow our winners’ examples. That’s the difference Patents for Humanity and its award winners are making in the world—not just innovating, but inspiring and leading by example. So I’d like to congratulate all of you for being a part of that great and noble effort. You are all truly amazing innovators. The benefit of the work you’ve done is incalculable. Your ground-breaking efforts are making a difference in the lives of millions of people around the world. And the example you have set will inspire and guide countless more innovators. Thank you all for coming today, and my thanks again to the White House and all of you who have made today possible.


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Following is a list of the 2015 Patents for Humanity winners:


Artemisinin is an important antimalarial drug derived from the sweet wormwood plant in Asia and Africa.  Growing cycles, crop yields, and weather cause supply volatility of artemisinin, making it difficult to obtain at times.  To address this problem, a public-private partnership to create synthetic artemisinin was formed in 2004 by PATH, the University of California Berkeley (2013 Patents for Humanity award winner), and Amyris, Inc., with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  In 2007, Sanofi joined the project as the manufacturing partner for their chemical expertise and industrial capacity, taking this project from laboratory experiments to factory production. Sanofi is now supplying large quantities of artemisinin anti-malarial compounds on a no-profit-no-loss basis for use in developing countries.


Tuberculosis kills more adults worldwide than any infectious disease besides HIV/AIDS.  One of the biggest challenges facing tuberculosis researchers is how to combat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which is caused by an organism that is resistant to the most potent tuberculosis drugs.  Novartis has discovered a class of compounds called indolcarboxamides that are active against drug-sensitive and multidrug-resistant strains of tuberculosis.  In an arrangement requiring no upfront or milestone payments, Novartis has provided their entire tuberculosis R&D program, including these compounds, to the TB Alliance, a non-profit product development partnership that seeks to find new and improved tuberculosis treatment regimens.  The agreement allows the TB Alliance to develop these compounds further into potential tuberculosis treatments and potentially conduct clinical trials.  Early toxicology, safety, and therapeutic studies have been promising.

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USPTO Deputy Director Russ Slifer (left) and Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino (right).

American Standard Brands

American Standard’s “SaTo” (Safe Toilet) Technology was created for people worldwide who do not have access to safe, basic sanitation. The SaTo Technology includes specially designed latrine pans and collectors with a counterweighted trapdoor-like flapper that can be flushed by pouring a small amount of water onto it.  Upon closure, the flapper door creates an air-tight seal that reduces odors and prevents insects from entering and exiting the pit, eliminating a primary route of disease transmission.  American Standard has partnered with BRAC, UNICEF, Save the Children, and other NGOs to distribute SaTo pans and collectors throughout the developing world.  Over 700,000 SaTo pans have been distributed in Bangladesh, Uganda, Haiti, Malawi, and the Philippines.

SunPower Corp

Nearly 18 percent of the world’s population is energy impoverished.  Traditional forms of lighting are combustion-based (firewood, charcoal, kerosene and dung), contributing to an estimated 3.5 million deaths a year from health impacts and house fires.  For these communities, SunPower has outfitted a standard shipping container with solar panels on top and equipment inside to power hundreds of safe, rechargeable lanterns.  Locals rent these lanterns for a small fee which is then reinvested to expand and improve the program.  SunPower donates the container and supplies to partner organizations, along with ongoing technical support.


According to UNICEF, as many as 67 million children suffer from acute malnutrition every year.  Children suffering from prolonged malnutrition often develop digestive problems that interfere with eating more food, causing further health problems and death.  Nutriset developed nutritional products made from peanuts and other ingredients that helps malnourished children quickly and safely regain weight and digestive function.  In addition to delivering their Plumpy’Nut branded products throughout the world with partners like UNICEF and USAID, Nutriset also offers open licensing to producers in the developing world so communities can work toward self-sufficiency.  Their PlumpyField® network assembles entrepreneurs in participating countries to manufacture the Plumpy’ range of products for local needs.

Michael Oister, CEO of Invent Now.

Michael Oister, CEO of Invent Now.

Golden Rice

Despite current interventions, vitamin A deficiency is the leading killer of children globally (2 – 3 million annually) and also is the leading cause of childhood blindness (500,000 cases annually). Most cases occur in Asia where the staple food white rice, eaten by 3.5 billion people daily, lacks vitamin A sources typically found in animal products and leafy vegetables. These deaths and blindness are preventable. Golden Rice was genetically enhanced to provide a source of vitamin A for people subsisting mainly on rice, making it one of the first biofortified foods.  Professors Potrykus and Beyer invented the technology after a decade of research, and have worked with Dr. Dubock since 2000 to donate it to the resource poor in developing countries. Local Golden Rice varieties are currently being developed by public sector institutions in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam.  Through licenses with national governments, farmers are free to plant, grow, harvest, locally sell, and replant seed – there are no licenses for farmers and no fees for use.

Global Research Innovation & Technology (GRIT)

An estimated 65 million people in the developing world require wheelchairs.  However, conventional wheelchairs don’t function well on the rough and uneven terrain commonly found in developing regions. GRIT was created by engineering graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to increase mobility for the disabled around the world.  Their three-wheel Leveraged Freedom Chair uses a push-lever drivetrain to help people move over broken pavement, dirt roads, fields, hills, rocky terrain and more.  It’s built from standard bicycle parts to enable local repairs with available materials.  After graduating, the MIT students founded GRIT to bring the product to market, and MIT assisted by transferring the patent rights to GRIT for further development. The chair has been distributed in partnership with the World Bank, Red Cross, and others in India, Brazil, Guatemala, Guinea, Kenya, Haiti, Easter Island, Nepal, and Tanzania. A new version of the Leveraged Freedom Chair, known simply as the Freedom Chair, is now available in the United States for recreational use, helping Americans move beyond the pavement.


USPTO Directo Michelle Lee (right) with John Holdren, who is  senior advisor to President Barack Obama on science and technology issues.

USPTO Directo Michelle Lee (right) with John Holdren, who is senior advisor to President Barack Obama on science and technology issues, enjoying a conversation prior to the start of the ceremony.


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One comment so far.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    April 23, 2015 07:15 am

    I always find it very difficult to watch a PTO director promote patents when I know that she has been doing everything possible to weaken patents.