MPEP 509.04(b)
Institution of Higher Education Basis for Micro Entity Status

This is the Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 08.2017, Last Revised in Januay 2018

Previous: §509.04(a) | Next: §509.04(c)

509.04(b)    Institution of Higher Education Basis for Micro Entity Status [R-11.2013]

37 C.F.R. 1.29  Micro entity status.

*****

  • (d) To establish micro entity status under this paragraph, the applicant must certify that:
    • (1) The applicant qualifies as a small entity as defined in § 1.27; and
    • (2)
      • (i) The applicant’s employer, from which the applicant obtains the majority of the applicant’s income, is an institution of higher education as defined in section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001(a)); or
      • (ii) The applicant has assigned, granted, conveyed, or is under an obligation by contract or law, to assign, grant, or convey, a license or other ownership interest in the particular application to such an institution of higher education.

*****

35 U.S.C. 123(a) provides a gross income basis under which an applicant may establish micro entity status. See MPEP § 509.04(a). 35 U.S.C. 123 provides that a micro entity shall also include an applicant who certifies that: (1) The applicant’s employer, from which the applicant obtains the majority of the applicant’s income, is an institution of higher education as defined in section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001(a)); or (2) the applicant has assigned, granted, conveyed, or is under an obligation by contract or law, to assign, grant, or convey, a license or other ownership interest in the particular application to such an institution of higher education. 37 CFR 1.29(d) implements the provisions of 35 U.S.C. 123(d).

To the extent that 35 U.S.C. 123(d) (unlike 35 U.S.C. 123(a) ) does not expressly require that an applicant qualify as a small entity under 37 CFR 1.27, the Office has invoked its authority under 35 U.S.C. 123(e) to "…impose… other limits on who may qualify as a micro entity…" in order to expressly require that a party claiming micro entity status via 35 U.S.C. 123(d) qualify as a small entity under 37 CFR 1.27. Accordingly, 37 CFR 1.29(d)(1) requires that an applicant claiming micro entity status on the institution of higher education basis must certify that the "applicant qualifies as a small entity as defined in § 1.27 " in addition to certifying that the other requirements set forth in 35 U.S.C. 123(d)(1) or (2) are met. See MPEP § 509.02 for a discussion of the requirements for small entity status.

I.    REQUIREMENTS

An applicant for micro entity status under the "institution of higher education" basis set forth in 37 CFR 1.29(d) must satisfy two requirements. First, the applicant must certify that the applicant qualifies as a small entity as defined in 37 CFR 1.27. Second, the applicant must certify that either (i) the applicant’s employer, from which the applicant obtains the majority of the applicant’s income, is an institution of higher education as defined in section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001(a)); or (ii) the applicant has assigned, granted, conveyed, or is under an obligation by contract or law, to assign, grant, or convey, a license or other ownership interest in the particular application to such an institution of higher education.

A.    Small Entity Requirement

In order to meet the small entity requirement, every party holding rights in the application must qualify as a small entity under 37 CFR 1.27. If any rights in the application are assigned, granted, conveyed, or licensed to a party that does not qualify as a small entity under 37 CFR 1.27, the applicant cannot qualify for any patent fee discount. An obligation to assign, grant, convey, or license rights in the application to a party that does not qualify for small entity status would also disqualify the applicant from receiving any patent fee discount. In order to qualify for small entity status, and in order to meet the small entity requirement for micro entity status, there can be no party holding rights or obligated rights in the application that does not qualify as a small entity. See MPEP § 509.02 for a discussion of the requirements for small entity status.

B.    Section 1.29(d)(2) Requirement

Under 37 CFR 1.29(d)(2)(i) the applicant must certify that the applicant’s employer, from which the applicant obtains the majority of the applicant’s income, is an institution of higher education. Because only a person can have an "employer," the applicant certifying under 37 CFR 1.29(d)(2)(i) must be a person or persons, which in most cases, means the inventor(s).

Under 37 CFR 1.29(d)(2)(ii) the applicant must certify that the applicant has assigned, granted, or conveyed a license or other ownership interest in the subject application (or is obligated to do so) to such an institution of higher education. An attempt to obtain micro entity status by merely seeking to transfer a de minimus interest to an institution of higher education could be considered a sham transaction. Although the Office considers it highly unlikely that institutions of higher education would be party to such transactions, the Office plans to closely monitor the percentage of applicants claiming micro entity status under 35 U.S.C. 123(d) to ensure that applicants are not engaging in such transactions in order to obtain micro entity status.

II.    MEANING OF "INSTITUTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION"

Section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 defines what is meant by "institution of higher education" in the context of 37 CFR 1.29(d). See 20 U.S.C. 1001. Section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act states that the term "institution of higher education" means:

an educational institution in any State that—

  • 1. admits as regular students only persons having a certificate of graduation from a school providing secondary education, or the recognized equivalent of such a certificate, or persons who meet the requirements of section 1091(d)(3) of this title;
  • 2. is legally authorized within such State to provide a program of education beyond secondary education;
  • 3. provides an educational program for which the institution awards a bachelor’s degree or provides not less than a 2-year program that is acceptable for full credit toward such a degree, or awards a degree that is acceptable for admission to a graduate or professional degree program, subject to review and approval by the Secretary;
  • 4. is a public or other nonprofit institution; and
  • 5. is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association, or if not so accredited, is an institution that has been granted pre-accreditation status by such an agency or association that has been recognized by the Secretary for the granting of pre-accreditation status, and the Secretary has determined that there is satisfactory assurance that the institution will meet the accreditation standards of such an agency or association within a reasonable time.’

Additionally, section 103 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 provides that the term "State" means the 50 States of the United States as well as "the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa, the United States Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Freely Associated States’’ and that the Freely Associated States means the ‘‘Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau.’’ See 20 U.S.C. 1003.

Based upon these definitions, public or non-profit institutions located in one of the 50 States or U.S. territories offering certain undergraduate educational programs credited toward a bachelor’s degree or educational programs awarding "a degree that is acceptable for admission to a graduate or professional degree program" are eligible as an "institution of higher education" for purposes of establishing micro entity status under 37 CFR 1.29(d). Except for universities or other institutions of higher education located outside the United States, any university or other U.S. institution of higher education that qualifies for small entity status by virtue of being a nonprofit organization under 37 CFR 1.27(a)(3) meets the criteria of an "institution of higher education" for micro entity status purposes.

An institution such as a non-profit research foundation, technology transfer organization, or Federal Government research laboratory does not qualify as an "institution of higher education" under the definition of "institution of higher education" set forth in the Higher Education Act of 1965 for purposes of establishing micro entity status.

A.    Universities and Colleges that Do Not Qualify as Institutions of Higher Education

One of the requirements for an "institution of higher education" under section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 is that the institution be non-profit. Therefore, for-profit universities and colleges do not qualify as an "institution of higher education" for purposes of establishing micro entity status. As previously stated, foreign universities do not qualify as an "institution of higher education" for purposes of establishing micro entity status. A foreign university may offer an on-line educational program in the United States, however, on-line classes offered in the United States would not qualify the foreign university as an "institution of higher education" for purposes of establishing micro entity status. That’s because the university must be located "in any State" in the context of what "in any State" meant in 1965 – the year of the Higher Education Act of 1965. In addition, institutions that only grant graduate degrees do not qualify as an "institution of higher education" for purposes of establishing micro entity status because section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 is limited to an institution that "provides an educational program for which the institution awards a bachelor’s degree or provides not less than a 2-year program that is acceptable for full credit toward such a degree, or awards a degree that is acceptable for admission to a graduate or professional degree program…"

B.    The University Cannot be the Micro Entity Applicant

Although the 37 CFR 1.29(d) basis for qualifying for micro entity status is referred to as the "institution of higher education" basis, it is not the institution of higher education that can qualify for micro entity status, but rather inventors who are employees of an institution of higher education (see 37 CFR 1.29(d)(2)(i) ) or inventors or applicants who have conveyed ownership rights to an institution of higher education (see 37 CFR 1.29(d)(2)(ii) ). The institution (university) logically cannot make the certifications required under 37 CFR 1.29(d)(2)(i) and (d)(2)(ii) (that the employer from which the university obtains the majority of its income is an institution of higher education as defined by section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, or that the university itself has assigned, granted, conveyed, or is under an obligation by contract or law, to assign, grant, or convey, a license or other ownership interest in the particular application).

C.    CERTIFICATION FORM – INSTITUTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION BASIS

The Office’s form PTO/SB/15B contains the certifications under 37 CFR 1.29(d) that are required to establish micro entity status on the institution of higher education basis. There are 2 signature blocks reflecting that in addition to the small entity requirement under 37 CFR 1.29(d)(1), there are two alternative requirements under 37 CFR 1.29(d)(2). The first signature block is for certifying under 37 CFR 1.29(d)(2)(i) that the applicant’s employer, from which the applicant obtains the majority of the applicant’s income, is an institution of higher education. The second signature block is for certifying under 37 CFR 1.29(d)(2)(ii) that the applicant has assigned, granted, or conveyed a license or other ownership interest in the subject application (or is obligated to do so) to such an institution of higher education.

Certification of Micro Entity Status (Higher Education Basis)
Privacy Act Statement