Patent Lawyer Careers

Even before America became a nation, the colonial Massachusetts General Court granted Samuel Winslow a patent for the exclusive right to a new process of making salt in 1641. Then in 1787, the Constitution adopted a provision for the protection of intellectual properties. The modern patent laws used today came on the scene with the Patent Act of 1952. These laws are to stimulate innovation while encouraging inventors to disclose their new technology to the world under the governmental protection of a limited time monopoly. A patent lawyer’s job is to ensure and protect these rights.

Overview of Patent Lawyer’s Job Description

A career type as a patent lawyer entails defending a client’s rights to their invention, assist with patent infringement, and represent individuals or companies in the patent application process. They specialize in intellectual property, trademarks, design rights, and copyright laws. They guide their clients by providing legal advice, interpreting laws, representing their client in court proceedings, and assisting them in providing the right patent protection.

The Difference Between a Patent Lawyer and Patent Agent

A patent lawyer can practice law and give legal advice surrounding the process and protections of patents. In the field of patent law, one may also be a patent agent also known as a patent practitioner whose main job is to assist and advise through the legal complexities of he patent application process. They prepare and file the patent applications. A patent agent has passed the Patent Bar Exam and is registered to practice with the USPTO ( United States Patent and Trademark Office. The primary difference between a patent lawyer and a patent agent is a patent lawyer can represent clients in other legal settings, such as prosecuting a patent infringement in court.

Educational Requirements

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College Degree

A four-year college degree is required in order to be admitted into law school. However, you don’t need to be a lawyer in order to meet the requirements for the patent bar exam (see below). According to the USPTO to become a patent attorney, an individual is required to have a degree in science, engineering or technology such as physics, pharmacology, biology, biochemistry, or computer science. However, there is an exception to this rule such as being able to demonstrate of background in science or technology.

The Law School Admission Exam is required for admittance into most law schools, especially those accredited by the American Bar Association.

Law Degree

Earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association ( However, if you have a law degree but don’t have the proper education or training in science or engineering, you will not meet the Patent Bar requirements.

State Bar Exam

Pass your state bar exam to earn licensure.

Patent Bar Exam

Pass an additional USPTO licensing exam (if want to argue before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This exam is also know as the “Patent Bar.” If a lawyer has attained five years of continuous service with USPTO, this licensing exam is waived. This exam tests a candidate’s knowledge of patent law and USPTO policies and procedures as set forth in the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP).

Ongoing Education

Because of the complexity and ever-changing landscape of patent law, continued education courses are obligatory. Most states require lawyers to participate in continuing legal education either every year or every 3 years. Many law schools and state and local bar associations provide continuing legal education courses.

  • Keep your credits current through the American Bar Association
  • AIPLA (American Intellectual Property Law Association)

Salary & Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for lawyers was $127,990 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $61,400, and the highest 25 percent earned more than $194,580. Interestingly, lawyers who own their own practices usually earn less than those who work in law firms or other business establishments.

Employment for lawyers between 2020-2030 is projected to grow six percent whereas employment growth overall in all occupations is projected to grow only five percent. Currently law firms are the biggest employers of lawyers but to cut costs, many large corporations are increasing their in-house legal departments. Competition runs high for jobs because more students are graduating from law school than there are jobs available. So be open to considering relocation to another state if finding a job proves challenging. Remember each state requires passing its own bar exam in order to be licensed to practice law there. A career as a patent lawyer is highly specialized with rigorous educational requirements.

View trademark / copyright lawyer career overview information.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Lawyers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.

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