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Become a Patent Attorney: Education and Career Info

Learn how to become a patent attorney. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a patent attorney.

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Do I Want to Be a Patent Attorney?

A patent is a government document that protects an inventor's right to produce, use and/or sell an invention for a period of time. Patent attorneys complete and file patent applications and also work to protect the rights of the inventor or patent holder in courts and with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). Appearing in court may cause stress, and many lawyers work extremely long hours most weeks.

Job Requirements

Patent attorneys usually have a bachelor's degree in a technology-related field and a law degree. After earning a Juris Doctor degree and passing a state bar exam, attorneys are qualified to practice any area of law. Specialized experience is often required for those who want to practice patent law. The following table outlines the general requirements to become an attorney in this specialized field:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree and Juris Doctor*
Degree Field(s) Undergraduate degree in technical or scientific field; graduate degree in law*
Licensure Must pass a bar examination and be licensed by the state of practice***; some positions require passing the patent bar exam*
Experience 2 or more years**
Key Skills Research, writing, speaking, analytical and interpersonal skills***
Computer Skills Word processing, ability to use online legal research sites such as Westlaw, knowledge of how to use online case management filing programs**
Technical Skills Must be proficient in engineering, technology, physics, chemistry or biology****
Additional Requirements Most states require lawyers to complete continuing legal education (CLE) classes to maintain licensure*****

Sources: *Job postings from CareerBuilder.com (August 2012), **O*Net Online, ***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ****U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, *****American Bar Association.

Step 1: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree

Admission to law school requires a bachelor's degree. Patent attorneys are expected to be experts in the law and the technical, scientific or engineering field in which they concentrate their patent law practice. Thus, students might want to select a field of study that corresponds with the area of patent law that they intend to practice. For example, a bachelor's degree in engineering, physics, technology, biology or chemistry could be helpful.

Step 2: Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and Apply to Law School

Applicants to law school must take the LSAT, which consists of multiple-choice questions and an essay. The exam is designed to test students' analytic and logic skills.

Law school applicants use the Credential Assembly Service (CAS) to apply to schools. This service assembles a report for each student that includes his or her LSAT scores. It then submits this report to schools of the applicant's choice.

Step 3: Graduate From Law School

Law school requires three years of full-time study, but some schools offer part-time programs that take longer. Courses completed during law school cover topics like civil and criminal law and procedures, contract law, torts, legal writing and research, constitutional law and ethics. Law students intending to practice patent law might choose a degree program, or add a certificate program, that includes courses in intellectual property, trade secrets, patents and trademarks.

Success Tip

  • Take the patent bar exam. All individuals intending to appear before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must pass the patent bar exam. Applicants do not need a law degree to take the exam, but they must have a degree in a qualified technical field. Law students can take the exam while in school. Applicants who pass the patent bar but who are not lawyers are called 'patent agents'.

Step 4: Pass the Bar Examination

Law school graduates are required to pass a state bar examination before being able to practice as a lawyer in that state. Bar exams are generally 2-3 days long and might consist of multiple-choice questions and essays.

Success Tip

  • Satisfy character requirements. Attorneys are required to display good moral character, and most states have character requirements as part of their bar examination. This means that students must not have engaged in conduct that could jeopardize their ability to practice law ethically.

Step 5: Gain Experience

Most employers prefer patent attorneys with at least two years' experience. Aspiring patent lawyers can gain this experience by working in a law firm specializing in patent law. During this time, these lawyers can learn about patent applications and trial practice.

Success Tips

  • Take CLE courses in patent law. Patent attorneys have an opportunity to enhance their patent law skills by taking CLE courses. These are usually offered by state bar associations and the American Bar Association.
  • Apply for board certification. Some state bar associations and other professional organizations offer certification in specialty areas of law, including intellectual property and patents. To become certified, an individual might need a minimum number of years of experience working in intellectual property law, including experience representing clients in intellectual property cases. They also might need to complete CLE courses and pass an exam.
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