What is Patent Law?
Patent Law is one branch of Intellectual Property (IP) Law. IP Law is law protecting and fighting over the rights to ideas. For example, trademarked, copyrighted, or patented material. While IP Law broadly can cover a wide variety of content such as music and art and does not always require a specific background, Patent Law functions differently because to protect a scientific process or product requires some background science or engineering content.
A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. To get a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed to the public in a patent application. That is where a patent agent or attorney comes in.
What are my options for a career in Patent Law?
You can have a patent law career with or without a law degree (J.D.)! Your options are:
- Patent Agent (no J.D. required)
- Patent Attorney (Has J.D.)
What is the difference between a Patent Agent and Patent Attorney?
Both Patent Agents and Attorneys may write and prosecute patent applications. However, only Patent Attorneys may litigate patents in a court of law or advise clients in legal matters.
Both Patent Agents and Attorneys must either have a degree (B.S., B.A., Masters or PhD) in science or engineering, or have taken a certain amount of science and/or engineering classes to qualify to sit for an exam called the Patent Bar.
The Patent Bar
Different from what attorneys normally refer to as “The Bar Exam”, the Patent Bar is an exam an individual must take to become a Patent Attorney or Patent Agent. It is also known as the patent bar exam or patent exam. By passing this exam, these professionals can represent inventors in front of the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO). Unlike traditional bar exams, applicants do not need a legal background.
- Get a degree in science or engineering, or take the required amount of approved courses. (See full list of requirements here)
- Decide whether you’d like to be a Patent Agent or Patent Attorney. You can also work as a Patent Agent while you decide whether to become a Patent Attorney and invest in law school.
- If you would like to become a Patent Agent before/in lieu of attending law school, study for and pass the Patent Bar Exam.
- If you decide to go to law school first, apply for a Juris Doctor (J.D.) program at a law school. Graduate from law school and become licensed in the state(s) in which you plan to practice. This usually means taking the Bar Exam that is accepted in that jurisdiction. If you graduate from a Wisconsin law school and plan to practice law in the state of Wisconsin, you can use Diploma Privilege to skip taking the Bar Exam to become a licensed attorney in Wisconsin. In addition to taking a bar exam or using diploma privilege to become a licensed attorney, you must also pass the Patent Bar if you have not already done so.
How much do Patent Agents & Attorneys Earn?
Patent Law is seen as one of the more in demand legal careers. In general, Patent Agents tend to make more than most other science and engineering careers. Patent Attorneys usually make more money than Patent Agents. The Salary Comparison Chart below was provided by the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).