By Edward Elliott*, Attorney Advisor, Patents for Humanity Program Manager, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), USA
*Authored by an employee of the United States Patent and Trademark Office; no copyright is claimed by the United States in this article or associated materials.
Patents for Humanity is a United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awards program that recognizes innovators who overcome these challenges to bring life-changing technologies to those in need. Its purpose is twofold. First, it highlights success stories so that others can learn how to reach underserved communities. Second, by providing value to award winners, the program seeks to offset some of the diminished commercial incentives in these regions, thereby encouraging more innovation projects aimed at helping impoverished communities. This value includes public recognition of winners’ work and a voucher for accelerating certain matters before the USPTO.
Participants submit applications describing how they are using patented technology to benefit the less fortunate in five broad categories of humanitarian need: medicine, nutrition, sanitation, energy and living standards. Once the application period closes, we run a two-phase selection process with volunteer experts from outside the USPTO, including university faculty and technology transfer professionals, to review the entries according to program criteria. The review committee then sends a list of recommended award winners to the USPTO.
The first Patents for Humanity competition launched in early 2012 as a pilot program. Since then, it has attracted support from the White House and members of the U.S. Congress as well as many companies, trade associations, public interest groups and universities. In 2014, the USPTO announced that Patents for Humanity would be an ongoing program. Subsequent rounds of Patents for Humanity awards were made in April 2015 and most recently November 2016.
To date, Patents for Humanity has given 21 awards to all types of entities, from large multinational corporations to small companies and startups as well as universities and non-profit organizations. These recipients show how even a small group of people with focus and commitment can impact lives around the globe. The program is open to all U.S. patent owners and licensees. Three awards have gone to organizations based in Europe.
Past award winners include patent owners using their portfolios to decrease the cost of HIV and malaria drugs, develop more nutritious food sources, bring solar energy to off-grid villages, combat unsafe counterfeit medicines and purify billions of liters of water using inexpensive packets. Award winners from the past two cycles include:
* Sanofi, for supplying large quantities of anti-malarial compounds on an at-cost basis for use in developing countries.
* Novartis, for identifying new drug compounds for potentially treating drug-resistant tuberculosis and donating them to the non-profit TB Alliance for further development.
* SunPower Corp, for delivering clean solar-powered lighting to replace kerosene in villages in the Philippines through converted shipping containers.
* American Standard Brands, for distributing 1.2 million “SaTo” safe toilet latrine pans to communities in Africa and Southeast Asia.
* GRIT (Global Research Innovation & Technology), for developing an all-terrain wheelchair using readily available bicycle parts for use in India, Guatemala, Haiti and other locations.
Golden Rice, for creating vitamin A-enriched strains of rice to prevent thousands of cases of blindness and death each day among people who subsist primarily on rice.
* Nutriset, for fighting childhood malnutrition by creating a worldwide network of partners to supply their PlumpyNut formula using local producers.
* GestVision, for developing a quick, simple diagnostic test for preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication, for use in developing regions.
* Case Western Reserve University, for creating a low-cost, accurate malaria detection device using magnets and lasers for quicker diagnosis and treatment.
* Global Good Fund, for creating a passive cooler that can keep vaccines cold for 30 days, and for donating dozens of units to the fight against Ebola and other relief efforts.
* U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for developing an improved meningitis vaccine production process that has been used to immunize 235 million people in high-risk African countries.
An estimated 65 million people in the developing world require wheelchairs. Conventional wheelchairs do not function well on the rough and uneven terrain commonly found in developing regions. GRIT was created by engineering graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to increase mobility for people with disabilities around the world. Their three-wheel Leveraged Freedom Chair uses a push-lever drivetrain to help people move over uneven terrain such as broken pavements, dirt roads, fields, hills, rocky terrain and more. It is 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, the Red Cross and others in Brazil, Easter Island (Chile), Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, India, Kenya, Nepal and the United Republic of Tanzania. A new version of the chair, known as the Freedom Chair, is now available in the United States for recreational use, helping Americans move beyond the pavement.
For more information on Patents for Humanity, including the latest announcements, visit www.uspto.gov/patentsforhumanity