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U.S. Patent and Trademark Office works to help underrepresented entrepreneurs

The free event focused on helping under-resourced inventors gather information on how to file patents and access funding.

MINNEAPOLIS — For entrepreneurs like John Baker and Carla Scholz the first step to starting a new business venture begins with an idea.

"This is the Cleanzy Sponge," said Baker, a local entrepreneur. "It's a weighted, reusable bottle sponge.

At the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, the US Patent and Trademark Office hosted its free Patent Pro Bono program, showing these eager inventors how to file patents and access funding.

"I have Soak iT Up clards, which are greeting cards that turn into reusable cleaning cloths." said Scholz.

"It's bringing people into the system who have not had the opportunity," said Derrick Brent, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "43% identify as women, 35% identify as African-American, 13% are Hispanic or Latino."

The program launched 10 years ago in Minnesota and has spread to all 50 states, creating a pathway for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

"As to who this benefits - it's the people that are underresourced, they would not have the capital to get started to get the patent," said Jim Patterson, with the Patent Pro Bono Advisory Council.

"The patent process is very complicated, especially because you don't know what you don't know," said Baker.

For some inventors here, it's a personal journey.

"I went through that process and thought I could do it by myself, my daughter did all the research," said R. Lynn Pingol, CEO and founder of the Makee Company. "I lost my daughter and she had all this work and it was at that point, where I thought I can't continue it."

While she's pushing forward with the help of the program, entrepreneurs here are encouraging others to seek out resources to bring their ideas to life.

"Just to know you are not the expert of it all, there are others who lived it," said Pingol. "My advice is definitely leverage companies like LegalCorps who are here to help," said Baker.

The Minnesota Program is facilitated through LegalCorps, a non-profit based in Minneapolis that provides free assistance in non-litigation business law matters to low-income inventors.

USTPO and The Pro Bono Patent Program work closely with Brown Venture Group, Launch Minnesota, Forge North, Bank of America, BETA, and the University of Minnesota's NM Cup. 

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