Micro Entity Status
According to the 2011 America Invents Act (a/k/a "Patent Reform"), which became effective on September 16, 2011, implemented in the USPTO rules at 37 CFR 1.29, a "Micro Entity" is an applicant who qualifies under one of these two categories:
A. Qualification based on experience and income:
(1) Small Entity: the applicant qualifies as a "small entity", as defined in 37 CFR 1.27, (see below for an explanation of small entity status)
(2) No more than 4 previous applications: neither the applicant nor the inventor nor any joint inventor has been named as the inventor on more than four previously filed patent applications - but the following applications do not count toward the four application limit:
applications filed in another country
international applications for which the National Stage fee was not paid - in other words, PCT applications which did not go past the International Stage
applications resulting from prior employment, if the applicant has assigned, or is under an obligation by contract or law to assign, all ownership rights in the application as the result of the applicants previous employment. Note that this does not apply to the applicant's current employment.
(3) Income Test: neither the applicant nor the inventor nor any joint inventor had, in the calendar year preceding the calendar year in which the applicable fee is being paid, a gross income (as defined by the IRS) exceeding three times the median household income for that preceding calendar year (as most recently reported by the Bureau of the Census). The income level which will entitle an applicant to "Micro Entity" status (criteria (3), above) is currently (as of the time of writing of this page in December 2015) set to $160,971. For the latest Micro-Entity income number, check with the USPTO website. According to the USPTO FAQ page, for the purposes of this comparison, it is only the inventor's own income which is used in this comparison, not the total income of the household:
Regardless whether an applicant, inventor, or joint inventor filed a joint tax return rather than a separate tax return in the preceding calendar year, the gross income limit applies to the amount of income the person would have reported as gross income if that person filed a separate tax return, which includes, for example, properly accounting for that persons portion of interest, dividends, and capital gains from joint bank or brokerage accounts.
(4) No grant of rights to a non-Micro Entity: has not assigned, granted, or conveyed, and is not under an obligation by contract or law to assign, grant, or convey, a license or other ownership interest in the application concerned to an entity that would not meet (3), above.
B. Qualification based on Institution of Higher Education status:
"Micro Entities" also include applicants who certify that either:
(1) Employee of Institution of Higher Education: the applicants employer, from which the applicant obtains the majority of the applicants 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) Rights owned by Institution of Higher Education: 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 applications to such an institution of higher education.
The USPTO has certification forms which would need to be filed once in any application to give the applicant "Micro Entity" status. There are separate forms for qualification under Experience and Income status (SB15A) and under Institute of Higher Education status (SB15B). The certification of micro entity status forms may only be signed by an authorized party as set forth in 37 CFR 1.33(b)- an officer of an assignee corporation or organization is not authorized to sign a certification of micro entity status form. This means that the only parties who may sign a certification of micro entity status form are:
A registered patent practitioner, meaning a registered attorney or agent who is either of record or acting in a representative capacity under 37 CFR 1.34;
An inventor who is named as the sole inventor and identified as the applicant; or
All of the joint inventors who are identified as the applicant. If qualified for micro entity status, joint inventor applicants should sign separate copies of the relevant micro entity certification form(s).
While the certification form only needs to be filed once, the applicant's status needs to be reviewed each time a fee is paid to make sure that the applicant is still a "Micro Entity" - the status is tied to a comparison of the applicant's income and the income limit published by the PTO for the year in which the fee is paid, or that the majority of the applicant's income comes from an Institute of Higher Education, and that the application wasn't assigned or licensed to a non-Micro Entity, and that may have changed since the form was filed. For example, any of the following would result in a loss of Micro Entity status:
The applicant's income increased over the published limit for the year, because they had a large capital gain from sale of an asset.
The applicant is employed by an Institute of Higher Education, but this year in addition to being a professor at a college, they took a summer job and taught at a ski area during the winter so that their income from their outside job was more than they earned at the Institute.
The applicant gave a license to a company which wasn't a Micro Entity.