Minneapolis attorneys visited the White House last week, where they were recognized for creating a pro bono program that has become a blueprint for lawyers and inventors around the country.

The program, described as the first of its kind, provides pro bono legal services to lower-income inventors who are seeking patents. It was born in 2011, when James Patterson, founder of Minneapolis law firm Patterson Thuente IP, joined forces with Candee Goodman, a now-retired pro bono director at fellow Minneapolis firm Lindquist & Vennum.

They tapped LegalCorps, a local nonprofit that provides free legal advice to small businesses, to administer the pilot program, which was dubbed the LegalCorps Inventor Assistance Program (IAP). In conjunction with the program, Lindquist’s IP Practice Group Chair Mark Privratsky and Amy Salmela, a partner at Patterson Thuente, co-authored Patent Law Pro Bono: A Best Practices Handbook, which details how others can jumpstart similar programs for inventors.

Since the local attorneys launched their program, at least five other such programs have been created across the country. Most require that inventors' income does not exceed 300 percent of the poverty level to be eligible for free legal services.

Patterson Thuente and Lindquist & Vennum said that their IAP program was highlighted at a special White House event on Thursday, during which details of President Barack Obama’s executive actions for patent reform were discussed.

The president has called for the expansion of IAPs to all 50 states, as well as the appointment of a full-time “pro bono coordinator” at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, among other things. (Read the White House's official announcement about patent reform here.)

Fellow Minnesotan Jay Erstling of St. Paul’s William Mitchell College of Law joined Patterson and Goodman at the White House event. He contributed to Patent Law Pro Bono: A Best Practices Handbook.

“We greatly appreciate the [Obama administration]’s recognition of the IAP and the future support being put in place for its continued expansion nationwide,” Privratsky said in a statement. “The access to justice provided by the IAP allows qualifying inventors a better chance to start a business, employ others, and make a greater contribution to society than may have otherwise been possible.”

Last year, Twin Cities Business explored Minnesota’s history of groundbreaking inventions and what makes the state such a hotbed for innovation. Read the story, which includes a sidebar about the local IAP, here.

And view a list of 500 leading Minnesota inventors, which was compiled by Minneapolis company Patent Buddy and published by Twin Cities Business, here.

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