Micro entity status is now available from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as of March 19, 2013.

Previously, the Patent Office offered applicant a choice between two entity statuses: large and small. Small entity status allowed an applicant to a reduction in most Patent Office fees by 50 percent.

Now, an applicant has a choice between three entity statuses: large, small and micro. Micro entity status provides a reduction in most Patent Office fees by 75 percent.

To qualify as a micro entity, an applicant must meet either one of two sets of conditions: (1) a gross income basis or (2) an institution of higher education basis. This article addresses the gross income basis. To qualify as a micro entity under the gross income basis, the following requirements must be met:

  • Qualify as a USPTO-defined small entity under 37 CFR 1.29(d);
  • Not be named on more than four previously filed applications;
  • Not have a gross income more than three times the median household income in the preceding year from when the fee(s) is paid, i.e., maximum qualifying income. For 2012, the maximum qualifying income was $ 150,162; and
  • Not be under an obligation to assign, grant, or convey a license or other ownership to another entity that does not meet the same income requirements as the inventor.

The micro entity definition states that the application filing limit includes:

  • U.S. nonprovisional applications (e.g., utility, design, continuation and divisional applications);
  • U.S. reissue applications; and
  • U.S. national stage applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

It does not matter whether the applications are pending, patented or abandoned; they are still included when counting to determine whether the application filing limit has been reached.

The application filing limit does not include:

  • Foreign applications;
  • International (PCT) applications for which the basic U.S. national stage filing fee was not paid; and
  • Provisional applications.

In addition, the application filing limit does not include applications where an applicant, inventor, or joint inventor has assigned, or is under an obligation by contract or law to assign, all ownership rights in the application as the result of the applicant’s, inventor’s or joint inventor’s previous employment.

As an example, the cost for filing a nonprovisional utility patent application usually includes three components: basic filing fee, search fee and examination fee. Currently, if the application is filed electronically, these costs total:

Large entity: $1,600

Small entity: $800

Micro entity: $400

The current fee schedule at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can be found at: http://www.uspto.gov/.

It is important to keep in mind that the gross income limit may change each calendar year. Therefore, if the prosecution of an application extends across multiple calendar years, an applicant, inventor and joint inventor must verify that the gross income limit for the requisite calendar year is met to maintain eligibility for the micro entity discount. If the gross income limit is not met, then a notification of loss of entitlement to micro entity status must be filed in the application to remove micro entity status.