The Patent Lawyer: Duties, Job Description, and Requirements

The Patent Lawyer

The job of a patent lawyer, also known as an intellectual property lawyer, is interesting as it offers the chance to learn about the latest in cutting-edge technology and new, exciting inventions.

The process of applying for a patent can be arduous and time-consuming; thus, a lot of inventors opt to get the services of patent lawyers to draft and prepare their application documents, and to defend them against possible infringement cases that may be filed against them.

Basic Information

Lawyers specializing in patents deal with laws that govern intellectual property, patents in particular. They represent client investors throughout the process of patent application, and sometimes act as litigators when the need to protect the client’s rights of invention arises. Similar to other types of lawyers, patent attorneys are required to have a law degree and a Juris Doctor (JD).

Aside from passing the state bar examinations to earn their license, patent lawyers must pass a licensing exam given by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) if they want to appear before the USPTO to argue a case.

Job Description

The job involves specializing in the specific areas of the law that protect inventors’ property rights. The procedures in completing patent applications are complicated and are better carried out with the help of a lawyer who has sufficient training in interpreting the rules and regulations pertaining to the patent process, filing of documents, negotiating contracts, and providing legal representation to inventor clients.

Main Duties

When a patent attorney prepares an application for patent, he must research on how past inventions on the same niche were done, and check on the legal and scientific accuracy of the inventor’s claims. The owners of the rights to the different aspects of an invention must be established. The lawyer then drafts the application and works with the USPTO in resolving any issues that the patent examiner may raise regarding the application.

Also part of the patent attorney’s duties is the licensing of the patent after approval, and representing client inventors whose rights to the invention may have been violated.

Educational Requirements

As a lawyer, a prospective patent attorney has to earn a law degree from any accredited law school and pass the state bar exams. Prior to entering law proper, however, he must have completed a 4-year degree program preferably in civil, electrical, biomedical, or mechanical engineering.

In addition, if he intends to represent client inventors and appear before the USPTO, he is required to hurdle what is commonly called the “patent bar” – the licensing exam given by the USPTO. However, if the lawyer has rendered at least 5 years of continuous service with the USPTO, the licensing examination is waved.

The Worldwide Legal Directories describes patent law as a complex field of law practice. By nature, it is always in a state of evolution. Thus, it is imperative for a patent lawyer to take continuing education courses in order to keep abreast with the current laws that pertain to patents.

Outlook and Employment Options

Based on reports issued by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov,) the demand for the job of patent or intellectual property lawyers is expected to increase by 10% on a yearly basis from 2012 to 2022. According to www.payscale.com, the average salary for lawyers specializing in patent law was pegged at US$130,450, as of 2014.

Employers, including the US federal government, are in constant hiring of more attorneys who specialize in specialty areas of law such as patent law in order to address the high volume of transactions such as litigation proceedings and patent application filings. For fiscal year 2014 to 2018, the USPTO has put in place a strategic plan geared towards improving its overall function, and shortening the current time it takes to file a patent application. Part of this plan is to actively recruit and hire additional intellectual property lawyers.

Work Environment

Typically, patent attorneys are employed in intellectual property or patent companies. There are also universities and organizations providing funding for inventors’ projects (including their research) that hire intellectual property lawyers. The US federal government is also a potential employer for those who aspire to work as patent examiners.

The number of hours rendered by patent attorneys for a given week may be a lot; and since their job requires a high level of concentration and analysis of highly technical information.

Employment and Salary

According to reports released by the USPTO, approximately 29,000 patent attorneys practice in the US with an average income ranging US$110,000 to US$121,800. Salaries may vary depending on the lawyer’s education, experience, and specialization. A patent attorney who is partner at a private law firm can earn an average annual salary of US$415,000.

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