Helping under-resourced inventors navigate the patent system

Author:Giulia Ragonesi - Edward Harris
Position:Patent Law Division - Communications Division, WIPO

For Antonio Gonzalo Hoyos Barón, tragedy was the mother of invention. For years, the forensic scientist heard about health workers waiting at rural health clinics across Colombia for ambulances that never arrived: the rushing vehicles hydroplaned while cornering on rain-slicked roads before foundering and, in one instance, flipping over and killing a young female patient.


Hoping to help solve this problem, Mr. Hoyos Barón began in the mid-1990s to work on a claw-like metal contraption to be mounted on vehicles traveling during South America’s rainy season, providing lateral stability on wet and muddy roads. Work progressed slowly. But when a prototype had the desired effect, Mr. Hoyos Barón was thrilled. “Imagine seeing something you’ve been dreaming of for such a long time becoming reality and with the potential to be so useful,” he says.

That potential, however, remains largely untapped, because taking it to the next step means obtaining the patent protection that would attract investors and help commercialize the product. Lacking what he calls “musculos financiarios” – financial muscle – for the costs that often include attorneys’ fees, Mr. Hoyos Barón was stuck – like many inventors who lack financial means.

Support is in sight

Help is on the way. A new WIPO-led effort is helping match Mr. Hoyos Barón and other under-resourced inventors and small businesses in developing countries with intellectual property (IP) lawyers willing to work for free to help the inventors better navigate the patent-filing process.

The Inventor Assistance Program (IAP) was formally launched globally on October 17, 2016, following successful pilot projects in Colombia, Morocco and the Philippines. The IAP is a WIPO initiative in cooperation with the World Economic Forum and an array of other sponsors, including the Inter-American Association of Intellectual Property (ASIPI), the International Federation of Inventors’ Associations (IFIA), Novartis, Qualcomm, Pfizer, the European Patent Institute (EPI) and the United States Federal Circuit Bar Association (FCBA).

The problem

The exact number of under-resourced inventors around the world is unknown, but data show that up to 60 percent of patent applications filed by locals in many developing countries are abandoned or rejected even before they are examined as to substance because very few people in these countries know their way around the patent system. “A lack of access to often costly legal expertise is a real, but surmountable, obstacle to a great deal of innovation that can benefit societies,” explains Marco Aleman, Acting Director of WIPO’s Patent Law Division, which oversees the IAP.

The IAP’s recent launch is timely, as it comes amid a rising understanding in legal communities around the world of the importance of pro bono work, says Mr. Aleman. While the United States has...

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