Identifying yourself as a hybrid professional is getting a lot of attention these days, and I think becoming a great patent agent is one of the ultimate hybrid career moves: You have to be an expert in technology, legal, AND business issues to be able to effectively advise your clients on intellectual property matters. If you’re lacking skills in any one of these areas, then you’re not going to be a very good intellectual property practitioner.
My personal journey as an IP professional began while in graduate school, where I earned my PhD stripes in a highly innovative group that worked with a variety of companies to explore cutting edge products. Then, I worked in a law firm specializing in working with early stage companies, where I wrote the earliest patent applications that became the basis of successful technology businesses. And through it all, for over 25 years, I’ve been working with and within startups to experience first hand the business issues involved in creating and growing innovative companies.
A patent agent career is incredibly rewarding. Rather than just taking one idea to market, you get to work with bright minds and help them succeed–building a company from the ground up. Here’s a closer look at how to become a patent agent.
What is a Patent Agent?
A patent agent is a patent professional licensed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to advise and assist inventors in patent applications. At every stage of the patent process, a patent agent is there to offer guidance.
They are not to be confused with patent attorneys, who are also licensed to practice law. Since patent agents and patent attorneys have to pass the same patent bar exam, patent agents often have just as much (or more) legal knowledge as an average patent attorney. In fact many patent agents usually have more business and technical expertise than a patent attorney who may have gone straight from college to law school without additional job experience.
What Does a Patent Agent Do?
Patent agents are legal professionals who specialize in the patent process. Our job is to guide inventors and company founders through every stage of the patent application and IP portfolio creation processes.
Moreover, we at Patents Integrated have additional expertise, such as in technology licensing, entrepreneurship, investor due diligence, and patent enforcement, so that we can advise our clients with a holistic view of how IP can enhance your business model.
How to Become a Patent Agent
If the work of a patent agent sounds exciting to you, it might be worth considering becoming a patent agent yourself.
That said, becoming a patent agent is hard.
First, you must have a Bachelor’s degree in science or engineering before the USPTO will allow you to take the patent bar exam. Your best bet is to check out the USPTO General Requirements Bulletin, which outlines requirements for admission to the patent bar exam (yes, you have to have qualifications just for the privilege of taking the exam).
Note that a law degree is NOT required to sit for the patent bar exam. However, some sort of training in the IP process is highly recommended.
Then, you have to actually pass the patent bar exam, which has a pass rate of around 50% or less, depending on the year.
The Patent Bar Exam
This is a hard exam. We’re talking a 100-question multiple-choice exam administered over the course of six hours, one three-hour morning session and one three-hour afternoon session with 50 questions apiece (that’s about 3.6 minutes per question). Back in the olden days when I took the patent bar exam, it was an all day, in-person affair with the test takers showing up with roller cases of hardcopy reference materials. Fortunately, it’s now administered electronically so that you’ll know your results immediately.
Upon completion of a Data Sheet and Oath of Affirmation forms and satisfactory completion of a moral character investigation, you are officially registered as a patent professional, licensed to practice in front of the USPTO.
After that, the next steps are up to you. Many patent agents work in public or private law offices. Those who work for small offices get the chance to represent many clients at once, while large offices tend to provide consistent legal representation to one or two corporations.
Ultimately, if you want to work with highly innovative people, bringing together all of your business, technology, and legal knowledge to help bring amazing products to market, then the patent agent life might be for you!
At Patents Integrated, we’re not just patent attorneys, or business consultants, or even developers. We’re more than that. We’re a team pulling together diverse disciplines to guide our clients through the entire innovation life cycle. If you’re a patent agent (or aspiring patent agent) we would love to learn about the experience you bring to the table. Click here to get started.