Patent Attorney/Patent Agent
Patent Attorney or Patent Agent work offers opportunities for those who want to branch out beyond the limits of the laboratory or academia, and can lead to high executive positions in law, industry, or government, including lucrative employment working for the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Only about three percent of the attorneys in the USA can qualify as Patent Attorneys, and Patent Agents number even fewer than Patent Attorneys. Yet, despite an exponential increase in new patent filings, the number of new patent attorneys and patent agents registering with the USPTO has remained steady. So, both remain in high demand for the foreseeable future.
“Patent Attorney” is an elite title. Patent Attorneys are lawyer-scientists who review and understand advances in technology, and explain and argue differences in technology to judges, juries, and Patent Office Examiners. They are licensed to prepare and negotiate patent applications both in the United States and internationally, and may represent solo inventors, large corporations, or anything in between. Patent Attorneys are fully qualified and licensed to practice law the same as any other lawyer, but also have the valuable added asset of being admitted to practice (“registered”) before the United States Patent Bar.
Patent Attorneys may litigate disputes before the Patent Office or regular civil courts, and form strategies for asserting or defending patent rights. Or they may prepare, file, and “prosecute” patent applications to establish original patent rights, counseling their clients for protection of their intellectual property. In this they routinely draft patent applications, that explain how their client’s invention works, and how it differs from previous inventions, to argue that it is worthy of patent protection. (Interesting trivia: Lawyers who are not Patent Attorneys are permitted to argue patent cases before regular civil courts, but not before the Patent Office. However, since such litigation requires significant technical or science background, they will generally have registered Patent Attorneys to advise them. Lawyers who are not registered as Patent Attorneys cannot file patent applications or prosecute them.)
Becoming a Patent Attorney usually takes seven years of full-time study after high school—four years of undergraduate study, followed by three years of law school. Law school applicants specializing in patents normally have a bachelor's degree in science or engineering to qualify for admission, or have passed the Fundamentals of Engineering examination. Many patent attorneys have Master or Doctoral degrees.
Median Salary 2019
According to glassdoor.com, the median salary of a Patent Lawyer in 2019 was $135,428.
Patent Agents, in contrast to Patent Attorneys, are not lawyers. But, like Patent Attorneys, Patent Agents work with inventors, researchers, and attorneys to evaluate invention technology, assess patentability, draft patent applications, and analyze and respond to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Actions. In these particular functions, they perform precisely the same duties as Patent Attorneys. In today’s high technology world, wherein economies are increasingly dependent upon innovative products that require legal protection, patent agents are more important than ever.
In addition to a very competitive starting salary and fast growing demand, a career as a patent agent is also attractive for several other reasons:
- Patent agents do not spend three years in law school, yet are just as qualified as an attorney to prepare and prosecute patent applications.
- Patent agents are registered with the USPTO—a federal bar—so they enjoy more career mobility than an attorney who is licensed in only one state jurisdiction.
- Companies and law firms often prefer patent agents to patent lawyers, because of the patent agent’s greater technical expertise, lower salary requirements, and equivalent ability to practice at the USPTO.
Patent agents also enjoy options as to their preferred work environment, as they may serve, for example, in the intellectual property groups of law firms, in legal departments of corporations that conduct research and development, or in the technology transfer offices of research universities. Additionally, they may have their own private practices, or work at the Patent Office as patent examiners. Like Patent Attorneys, Patent agents may also have the option to work in either the United States or abroad.
A bachelor’s degree in engineering or a “hard” science, (in contrast to social, psychological, or political “sciences” for example) will qualify Patent Agent candidates to take the Patent Bar Exam, (the same exam taken by Patent Attorneys) although many Patent Agents hold Master or Doctoral degrees. To help prepare for the Patent Bar Exam, one can fine previous patent bar exams and study materials online. Many programs are available for self-study, online, or in classrooms, to help better equip candidates for the licensing exam, and for practice in the patent field.
Median Salary 2019
According to payscale.com, the median salary of a Patent Agent in 2019 was $98,844.
Want to know more?
- Plant Pathologist turns Patent Attorney
- Science Buddies-Patent Attorney
- USA Today
- Bureau of Labor & Statistics
- Science Careers on Patent Law
- From Bench to Briefs
Belonging to professional organizations & LinkedIn groups can provide you with networking, informational interviewing, & job shadowing opportunities, as well as assist you with finding internships and jobs.
- American Intellectual Property Law Association
- National Association for Patent Practitioners
- List of Professional Organizations
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Information retrieved from:
- USA Today: Scientists turn into patent lawyers
- Science Buddies
- The Pirate’s Guide to Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights (Insider Tactics for Beating Pirates on Their Own Terms) by David Douglas Winters, BSc, MSc, JD, D.LL, copyright 2011, ISBN-13: 798-0615632001
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