June 17, 2015
By George H. Spencer, Counsel, Roberts Mlotkowski Safran & Cole, PC
Patent applicants who qualify for the small-entity status have for some time been allowed to pay about half of the normal official fees charged by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. To qualify for that status the applicant can not employ over 500 persons or have assigned or be obligated to assign any rights in the patent to an entity that does not qualify for the small-entity status. Applicants who qualify for the micro-entity status need pay only about one quarter of the most official fees, and to qualify for this status, an applicant must meet the requirements applicable to a small-entity as well as a number of additional requirements among which are (1) the applicant can not have been named as an inventor or joint inventor in more than four previously filed US applications, excluding provisional and certain other types of applications, (2) the applicant or the inventor or any joint inventor may not, in the year preceding the year when a fee is paid, have had a gross income exceeding a certain maximum qualifying gross income, the current figure being $155,817 or its equivalent in a foreign currency, and (3) neither the applicant nor the inventor or a joint inventor can have assigned or be under an obligation to assign any rights in the patent to an entity who, in the prior year, had an income exceeding the mentioned maximum gross income. As a practical matter, great care should be taken in determining whether an applicant qualifies for the micro-entity status lest a patent be invalidated on the ground that the status was claimed improperly.