Francis Gurry led WIPO as Director General from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2020.

Inventor Assistance Program: First Patent Grants to Under-Resourced Inventors

May 28, 2019

By Allison Mages, Head, Legislative and Policy Advice Section, WIPO Patent Law Division

The first patents have been granted to innovators helped by WIPO's Inventor Assistance Program (IAP), as five South American inventors have now successfully secured patent protection.

Officially launched in 2016, the Inventor Assistance Program aims to level the playing field for inventors who have great ideas but struggle to secure patents due to a lack of funds. The WIPO-led public-private partnership helps these inventors get professional support from patent experts who offer legal services at no cost to the inventors – a boost for individual innovators, as well as their countries’ economic development.

Countries’ capacity to incentivize, support and manage innovation plays a central role in growing economies, and is enhanced through the increased participation of local inventors with new ideas of potentially global import. The Inventor Assistance Program plays an indispensable role in enabling the transformation of inventors’ concepts into commercial assets.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry

Navigating the patent system with the Inventor Assistance Program

Though many developing countries have well-functioning patent systems, local inventors often struggle to directly benefit: Indeed, patent grants by outside filers often far outnumber those to local applicants, despite a strong local innovation culture. In many of these countries, inventors with limited financial means typically represent themselves before their local patent office, rather than engaging a seasoned intellectual property (IP) professional.

Discouraged by the complexity of the process, many inventors give up during the early stages of the patent grant procedure, before their innovative concepts are even examined on their merits.

To overcome this challenge, WIPO established the Inventor Assistance Program to level the playing field for under-resourced inventors in developing countries by pairing them with a specialist to help draft and prosecute their patent applications.

Volunteers provide free assistance before the inventor’s local patent office and in selected jurisdictions. The program operates in five countries today: Ecuador, Colombia, Morocco, the Philippines, and South Africa. For the inventors wishing to protect their invention at the international level, the IAP also provides support for the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) national and regional phase entry in the United States of America and in Europe. The program plans to expand to Japan in the near future.

Already, the IAP has helped 39 inventors. So far, five patents have been granted in Colombia. The covered inventions include a device that stabilizes vehicles on wet, muddy roads, specialized kitchen equipment to cook lasagna, a machine that helps the visually impaired distinguish coins, modular furniture and an automated car covering by inventor Ivan Rizo.

Video:  Iván Rizo received support from a top Colombian law firm to secure protection for his invention.

One inventor’s journey

Mr. Rizo was recently awarded a WIPO Medal for his patent secured in the framework of the Inventor Assistance Program. An IAP sponsor, the International Federation of Inventors’ Associations (IFIA), selected Mr. Rizo’s invention for the award based on its potential for commercial impact.

His patent protects a device that shields cars against the elements and deters theft at the same time. The technology lies at the heart of Reinventing, a company founded by Mr. Rizo and his wife Daniela. The IAP was critical for Mr. Rizo to secure this important asset for his business. “We found support only with the IAP. We had few resources and needed to protect our invention,” he said.

Via the IAP, Mr. Rizo received assistance from a top Colombian law firm to secure protection for his invention. Ms. Luz Helena Adarve, Partner at Cardenas & Cardenas - Dentons, guided him throughout the patent application process. Reflecting on her experience, Ms. Adarve described it as “a very rewarding experience that reminds us that behind all patent applications, beyond talent and ingenuity, there are constant, resilient people with a desire to contribute to society.” She added, that the IAP “allows the ingenuity of developing countries like Colombia to reach out the entire world.”

Building an innovation ecosystem

Beyond helping under-resourced inventors, the IAP helps its participating countries enhance their innovation ecosystem. For example, the Moroccan Industrial and Commercial Property Office (OMPIC) viewed the IAP as an opportunity to engage their most prolific inventors. In Morocco, the program pairs experienced inventors with individuals just starting on their innovation journey, giving them a glimpse of where their success can take them. According to Mr. Nour-Eddine Boukharouaa, Head of Marketing Services for OMPIC and Morocco’s focal point for the program, “The IAP gives hope to those inventors who lack resources.”

IAP participation improves both the chances to secure a patent and the inventor’s odds in succeed in making use of it. A National Screening Board reviews each IAP application. In South Africa, the Screening Board includes representatives from government departments specializing in funding, infrastructure support, and IP commercialization. This gives agencies an advance look at technologies that could potentially benefit from other local initiatives. Ms. Nomonde Maimela, Executive Manager Innovation & Creativity at the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), said: “The IAP is one of the key programs [for South Africa] as it focusses on assisting SMEs towards playing a meaningful role in the economy.”

This holistic approach by participating countries help inventors get the maximum benefit. As the IAP’s Steering Committee Chair, Mr. David Kappos, recently said, “the IAP is the only program on the planet that brings great ideas together with legal resources to protect them and enable them to produce new products and services for the benefit of mankind.”

Learn more about the IAP

Visit the program’s website to learn more about how to apply as an inventor, become a volunteer or a sponsor of the program.