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Is Pursuing a Career in Patent Law the Right Move for You?

What's It All About?
The field of patent law is wide open to Biologists, Chemists, Engineers, Computer Scientists, and many other science and technology professionals. And it's true; individuals with the proper science or engineering degree need only pass the Patent Bar to become registered Patent Agents.

Upon becoming a Patent Agent, you may gain employment writing and prosecuting patent applications at law firms, technology transfer offices, biotech or engineering corporations, and government institutes.

From there, you may decide whether or not to go on to law school and become a Patent Attorney. In addition to writing and prosecuting patents, a Patent Attorney can also litigate in patent infringement cases.

The Perfect Skill Set
Patent law is the perfect field for many creative and talented individuals since it requires so many qualities to be successful.

There is definitely a people-oriented side to a career in patent law. This is especially true when you consider the "isolated lab environment" most scientists and engineers are used to. Contrast this with the fact that an inventor's hopes and dreams will be riding on the invention and that you will be there every step of the way to help them achieve their goals. Obviously, a great deal of interviewing and excellent communication is required in order to adequately learn what was invented and write a patent application.

Which brings us to the next point; patent practitioners must also have excellent writing skills. Drafting a quality patent application is tedious work that requires the absolute best in written communication.

In addition, a strong background in either science or technology is a must. You will have to understand exactly what has been invented in order to write a quality patent application.

Lastly, as a Patent Practitioner, you should possess a thirst for never-ending knowledge. You will be right on the cutting edge of research and development. You will constantly be exposed to new and exciting discoveries virtually before anyone else!

The Dollars and Cents
It's the million dollar question. What might you expect to make as a professional in the field of patent law? Well, the pay scale varies from $45,000 up to $250,000+ for Patent Practitioners and is determined by many factors (yes I realize that's quite a span).

First, as we've already eluded, if you are a scientist or engineer without a law degree you will be classified as a Patent Agent after you pass the Patent Bar Exam. If you have a law degree and are already considered an attorney, you will be classified as a Patent Attorney upon passing the exam. As a Patent Attorney with the same level of experience as a Patent Agent, you will typically earn the higher income because in addition to writing and prosecuting patents, you may also help protect patents in a court of law.

Second, your degree level will help determine your pay. If you have a Bachelor's degree in your particular area of expertise, you will typically make less than someone with a Master's or a PhD.

Third, your experience level will make a difference. Your previous positions will count when factoring your salary. The number of years you have worked as an engineer or scientist will make a difference. The more experience you have, usually the more valuable you will be perceived by the company. The longer you have worked in the field of patent law, the higher your pay will be as well.

Lastly, where you seek employment makes a difference in your pay. Law firms typically pay the most, whereas a Technology Transfer department at a University will usually pay the least. Furthermore, the state and city you apply for work in will also play a factor.

Hot Commodity
Businesses in the science and technology sectors regard patents as their lifeline. Therefore, gaining status as a registered Patent Practitioner can open many career doors for you.

Since the fields of research and intellectual property are so intertwined, imagine the new career opportunities you would be presented with if you were trained in both areas. Furthermore, as a scientist or engineer, most of the qualifications necessary to achieve registration as a Patent Practitioner have usually already been met. It is likely that your only requirement may be to pass the Patent Bar Exam. It is a difficult hurdle, but in comparison to the time and money you already spent to become a scientist or an engineer, the time and money necessary to pass the Patent Bar Exam is reasonable.

In today's unpredictable job market, expanding your skills makes sense, especially when this can be accomplished for a relatively low expense and little time. Compared to getting a degree, setting aside even a full year (although it can be completed in much less time) to learn about the patent prosecution process and take the Patent Bar Exam is very reasonable. Especially when you further consider the fact that it will open an entirely new career door for you. Whether you wish for a complete job change or the desire to become more marketable for technology based companies, gaining skills is always a smart move to make.

Please review to learn more about the Patent Bar Exam and how you can jump-start your career as a Patent Practitioner.

Lisa Parmley
Intellectual Properties Enterprises, Inc

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