What Do Patent Lawyers Do?

Patent lawyers' main responsibilities are to conduct patent litigation and handle copyright and trademark infringement cases. Patent lawyers must be licensed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and becoming a patent lawyer requires a background in technology or the sciences, as well as a J.D. degree. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Duties of a Patent Lawyer

A patent lawyer, also called a patent attorney or intellectual property lawyer, represents individuals seeking to obtain a patent (a set of exclusive rights awarded to an inventor). Patent lawyers write and prosecute patent applications, offer counseling to patent-seekers and handle patent infringement cases, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).

Patent lawyers must have an in-depth understanding of technology in order to successfully present their cases, and they must keep up with the latest scientific developments. The ABA reports that intellectual property lawyers find their jobs highly rewarding because of the opportunities to learn about the latest technologies, work with inventors and start-ups and tackle challenges in this ever-changing legal field.

Important Facts About Lawyers

Job Outlook (2014-2024) 6% growth
Key Skills Superb oral and written communication, meticulous researching, analytical and critical thinking, problem solving
Work Environment Private or corporate legal offices, may require meetings at a client's home, hospitals, or prisons
Similar Occupations Judge, paralegal, legal assistant, arbitrator, mediator, conciliator, post-secondary teacher

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Becoming a Patent Lawyer

The first step to becoming a patent lawyer is to earn a bachelor's degree in a scientific field approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In order to demonstrate technical expertise, applicants should hold a B.S. degree in engineering, chemistry, biology or a related field. Individuals who have an undergraduate degree in another field or extensive work experience but no degree may still apply to take the Patent Bar Exam, but they will face a more complex application process.

After receiving a bachelor's degree, the next step in becoming a patent lawyer is to complete a Juris Doctor (J.D.) program at an accredited law school and pass the bar exam to become licensed. Then, one must complete the application process outlined by the USPTO. Once the application is accepted, the aspiring patent lawyer must pass the Patent Bar Exam in order to become a registered patent attorney. Individuals who possess the necessary scientific qualifications and pass the exam but do not hold a J.D. degree may still work in the same capacity, but they are called patent agents.

Earning Potential

According to Payscale.com, as of September 2015, the majority of all patent lawyers earned between $78,705 and $215,391 per year, and the median annual wage was $130,225. Annual income for a patent lawyer will vary depending on experience. Entry-level patent attorneys earned between $70,859 and $173,028 yearly, while late-career patent lawyers earned between $66,384 and $304,150 annually.

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