On Patents Aiding Humanity

By David Kappos
July 24, 2012

Imagine a world in which the most innovative technologies spur economic growth and create jobs while also helping the world’s poorest populations.  Mobile phone apps built for social networking would provide critical infrastructure to connect isolated markets. Advances in material sciences would be retooled to provide cost effective energy solutions for Americans struggling to pay their utility bills. Medical technologies would be adapted to meet the needs of people in developing countries.

To help make this dream a reality, the USPTO several months ago launched a prize competition — Patents for Humanity — to recognize individuals, universities and companies that have used their patented technologies for humanitarian purposes anywhere in the world. We will be taking submissions for our prize competition through the end of August.

Research, development and commercialization of agricultural, medical, energy and information technologies involve both high risk and high cost.  Innovation in these game-changing fields is fueled by intellectual property rights.  The USPTO is therefore in a unique position to facilitate new ways for the IP system to continue in this role for all of humanity.

President Obama’s Global Development Policy — the first by a U.S. Administration — recognizes that raising the living standards of humanity is not just a moral imperative for the United States; it is vital for our economic and national security.  Patents for Humanity advances this policy by leveraging the power of invention to improve lives.

Patents for Humanity is a call to action for our world’s most innovative people to assist those most in need.  By examining patent portfolios with an eye towards humanitarian dual use, innovators can maximize the social, economic and environmental impacts of their intellectual resources.

The USPTO stands ready to honor patent holders that voluntarily disseminate their technology to those in need, or make their technology available to researchers working to find innovative humanitarian solutions.  Applicants who can show how they have applied patented technology to humanitarian ends are eligible for USPTO recognition at a public ceremony. Winners will be awarded a certificate to accelerate select proceedings before the USPTO on any technology in their portfolio.

The U.S. has long been a leader in using science and technology to solve global challenges.  As governments across the world engage in financial belt-tightening, public and private leaders should work together to ensure that humanitarian needs are not left unmet.  The USPTO is eager to play a role in highlighting the success stories of humanitarian efforts, while providing business incentives that spur increased participation by the patent community in confronting these challenges.

I invite all patent holders to consider how your inventions could further the aims of the President’s Global Development Policy. If you are actively addressing humanitarian needs with your patents, please apply to our Patents for Humanity prize competition by August 31st, 2012.


The Author

David Kappos

David Kappos is a Partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP in New York, NY. He was Under Secretary of Commerce and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from August 2009 to January 2013. Prior to leading the USPTO, Mr. Kappos served as Vice President and Assistant General Counsel for Intellectual Property at IBM. For more information and to contact Mr. Kappos please visit his firm profile page.

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