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How do I apply for free legal advice? 

Are you a Delaware inventor or small business who has limited resources and needs help applying for a patent on an invention? If so, you may be eligible to receive pro bono ("for free") representation from a patent attorney or agent through the Delaware Law School Patent Pro Bono Program (“DLS Patent Pro Bono Program”). 


Requirements for Pro Bono Assistance

You must be a Delaware resident to participate in the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program. In addition, you must satisfy the following three requirements:

  1. maximum household income;
  2. knowledge of the patent system; and
  3. you must have an invention - not just an idea!

IMPORTANT: The DLS Patent Pro Bono Program has limited resources and a limited number of volunteer patent attorneys and agents. Consequently, the program will not be able to offer pro bono services to every applicant who satisfies the eligibility requirements. Instead, the administrator of the program and the volunteer attorneys and agents will use their discretion to select those applicants whose needs are best suited to the services the program has to offer. We apologize in advance if we are not able to offer you the program’s services.

Requirement #1: Maximum Household Income

The DLS Patent Pro Bono Program is designed for low-income inventors and small businesses that could not afford the services of a patent lawyer. To participate in the program, you must fall within one of the following maximum income guidelines.

Delaware Solo Inventors
  • must have a total household income of less than 300% of the federal poverty guidelines (see chart below);
  • • and must not be under a current obligation to assign or license the rights to the invention to another entity that would not itself qualify for the services of the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program.
Delaware Small Businesses
  • must have 4 or fewer inventors who are under an obligation to assign the rights to the invention to the organization, where all members have current household income of less than 300% of the poverty guidelines (see chart below)
  • must have a total income of less than $150,000 in the preceding calendar year, and expect a total gross income of less than $150,000 in the current calendar year;
  • • and must not be under a current obligation to assign or license the rights to the invention to another entity that would not itself qualify for the services of the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program.

Documentation: If there is a follow-up intake interview, you may be required to provide documentation showing your compliance with the maximum household income guidelines.

Persons in Family/Household 2015 Poverty Guideline for 48 Contiguous States Poverty guideline multiplied by 3 – Maximum household income for DLS Pro Bono Program
1 $11,770 $35,310
2 $15,930 $47,790
3 $20,090 $60,270
4 $24,250 $72,750
5 $28,410 $85,230
6 $32,570 $97,710
7 $36,730 $110,190
8 $40,890 $122,670

Requirement #2: Knowledge of the Patent System

There are two ways to demonstrate your knowledge of the patent system:

  • Have a current provisional or non-provisional application on file with the USPTO;


Documentation: If there is a follow-up intake interview, you may be required to produce either documentation of your provisional or non-provisional patent application or a certificate of completion for the USPTO Certificate Training Course.

Requirement #3: You must have an Invention - not just an idea!

Before you can obtain a pro bono attorney, you will have to have an actual invention, not merely an idea. To demonstrate an invention, you should be able to describe the invention so that someone else could actually make and use the invention.

CAUTION: Do not publicly disclose your invention prior to filing a patent application or at least a provisional application for a patent. Your disclosure could be treated as prior art that could bar you from being able to secure a patent. For purposes of this application, you will only be asked to give a general description of the technical area of your invention and a general idea of the improvement it makes. Do not include any confidential or novel features, and do not provide any specific details about your invention.

In your application, we will ask you to identify three existing patents or patent applications that most closely resemble your own invention after doing a reasonable keyword search on your own. You can find these patents and applications by doing a search using Google Patents. Please identify the similar patents or patent applications by indicating their country of origin and either the patent number or the patent application number.

If you satisfy these three requirements, you are eligible to apply to the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program.


The DLS Pro Bono Patent Program does offer free legal services from a patent lawyer or agent who can help with the preparation of a patent application. Inventors will still be expected to pay for the following fees and costs:

Application Processing Fee

You will be required to pay a minimal fee to help cover the cost of processing your application. Here is the fee schedule:

Solo Inventors: $50

Small Businesses: $150

Applicants will be asked to pay the application processing fee only after their electronic application has passed an initial screening.

Fees Associated with the Processing of a Patent Application

You will be responsible for covering the costs associated with processing a patent application, including filing, search, examination, and issuance fees. You can get a sense of these fees from the USPTO’s official publication of fees. Please note the reduced fees for micro-entities, which are the types of businesses that are eligible for services from the DLS Pro Bono Patent Program.


Please review the following checklist before submitting an application to the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program:

  1. Are you a Delaware resident?
  2. Does your income fall below the maximum allowable household income?
  3. Can you satisfy the requirement for knowledge of the patent system? (Have you either filed a provisional or non-provisional patent application or have a certificate to prove that you have successfully completed the USPTO Certificate Training Course?)
  4. Do you have an actual invention and not just an idea?
  5. Have you done a Google Patent search and identified the three closest patents or patent applications to your invention?
  6. Do you understand that you will be responsible for the processing fee for this application and, if a patent application is subsequently filed with the USPTO, for the fees associated with that filing?
  7. Do you understand that the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program cannot provide services for all eligible applicants and it is entirely within the discretion of the program administrators and volunteer lawyers and agents to decide which applicants to accept into the program?
  8. Do you understand that submitting an application to the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and any individual attorney or agent or the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program?

If you answered “yes” to all of the above questions, you’re ready to complete an application for assistance from the DLS Patent Pro Bono Patent Program.

QUESTIONS: It is important to understand that the administrators for the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program are not patent attorneys or agents and cannot provide any legal advice. So please do not contact the administrators with general questions about patent law or the patent application process. The administrators can only provide assistance with technical problems associated with the submission of an online application to the DLS Patent Pro Bono Program. For those questions, you can send email inquiries to [email protected].

For substantive questions regarding the patenting process, you can try contacting the USPTO Inventors Assistance Center. You can also find helpful resources at: