Patent Lawyer: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a patent lawyer. Learn about job duties, education and licensure requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Do Patent Lawyers Do?

New inventions, computer software, even phone applications need protection from theft from other companies. Patent lawyers are necessary to protect those intellectual property rights. The continuous changes in the internet are bringing us faster machines, applications that help with so much, webcams, video streaming, etc. Inventors and coders are coming up with new stuff all the time and will probably need the work of a patent lawyer when their hard work ends up in the hands of an unscrupulous company that may have stolen their property. Patent lawyers will write briefs for court and may even appear before a judge in defense of their clients rights.

Patent lawyers defend the intellectual property rights of inventors from infringement. Learn about common job responsibilities and where a patent lawyer might work. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a patent lawyer.

Degree Required Juris Doctor (J.D)
Education Field of Study Law
Key Responsibilities Determines patentability of client's property and prepares and files patent application; monitors for patent infringement; represents client in litigation and negotiations to protect patent rights
Licensure or Certification All states require lawyers to be licensed
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6%*
Median Salary (2015) $115,820 for all lawyers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What is a Patent Lawyer?

Patent lawyers, or attorneys, specialize in the area of intellectual property that focuses on protecting inventor's rights. Since inventions may be the intellectual property of an individual, partnership, corporation or government entity, this is a complex and competitive field of law.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that lawyers may work in private practice, small-to-large firms, government offices or as in-house counsel for corporate clients (www.bls.gov). Depending upon where you work as well as the nature of your position, you may also have the opportunity to travel or work in another country.

What Activities Might I Perform?

In general, you would assist clients with various aspects of the patent process. This may include handling patent searches, completing applications and providing business advice. If a client's intellectual property rights are challenged or infringed upon, The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) indicates that your responsibilities may also include contract negotiations or enforcement (www.uspto.gov). You may go to trial or settle disputes outside of court.

According to the BLS, you may be required to have professional knowledge of government policy as well as national and international regulations. The USPTO states that some inventions may be subject to both international trade and treaty obligations, so if an inventor wants to market and protect their inventions outside the United States, you would need to be aware of the patent requirements for each relevant country.

What Training Will I Need?

Standard requirements, according to the BLS, include the completion of a bachelor's degree, a law degree and a passing score on the bar exam. If you're still considering law programs, you may want to look into an advanced or joint degree program that provides additional specialization; these usually require you to attend school for at least one additional semester. If you're close to completing your law degree, you may want to consider an internship within an intellectual property firm or a legal clinic.

If you're already licensed to practice and are interested in working with international clients or concerns, you may want to explore the capacity-building programs offered by The USPTO's Global Intellectual Property Academy (GIPA). These programs provide a variety of training opportunities that include both national and international protection and compliance methods.

What About Licensing?

Since there isn't a national bar exam, the BLS indicates you will need to be licensed by the state where you want to practice. In addition to the standard written bar exam, most states also require an additional ethics exam. Other tests you may need or want to take include the Multistate Performance Test, which tests for practical skills, and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, which tests for the American Bar Association's codes and standards of conduct. Since 2008, most states and jurisdictions require you to engage in continuing education to remain current in your field.

What Salary Could I Potentially Earn?

According to a May 2015 report by the BLS, the median wage for lawyers was $55.69 per hour and $115,820 per year. A January 2017 search at Salary.com for patent attorney positions I, II and III indicated that the median annual wages were $85,769, $129,873 and $154,194 respectively.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Alternative career fields will include the need of a doctoral degree to be a judge or hearing officer. The men and women in these professionals make important decisions keeping the law always in the forefront. These jobs could be filled by appointment or voted on by the public.

Arbitrators or mediators who work between groups or people to help solve disputes outside the legal system need bachelor's degrees. Teaching at postsecondary institutions require a doctorate. Paralegals or legal assistants need an associate's degree and work very closely with clients and attorneys with interviews and legal paperwork.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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