Degree Programs in Patent Law: Options and Information

Entry-level law students may focus on patent law as a concentration area within a 3-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) program. After that, they may pursue a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Intellectual Property Law.

Essential Information

Students concentrating in patent law learn how to draft, defend and appeal inventors' applications for patents. Students also learn to discern what inventions can be patented and what degree of novelty, utility and level of non-obviousness inventions must generally have in order to satisfy United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) criteria. All attorneys, including those specializing in patent law, must pass the bar exam upon graduating from law school. Those who take LL.M. programs need to complete a thesis or research project. Patent lawyers must also gain additional licensure from the USPTO.

Juris Doctor With Concentration in Patent Law

In most J.D. programs, students complete standard coursework in topics such as contracts, property and torts during the first year. Elective coursework in concentration areas such as patent law is then completed during the second and third years. Concentration tracks in patent law usually consist of three survey courses that cover general topics in intellectual property law, as well as specific methods for filing successful patent applications. Common topics include:

  • Antitrust regulations
  • Biotechnology patents
  • Drafting patent claims
  • Licensure of intellectual property claims
  • Patent prosecution and appeal

Master of Laws in Intellectual Property Law

Practicing attorneys and recent J.D. graduates looking for greater specialization in intellectual property law, including patent law, may enroll in relevant LL.M. programs. These programs train lawyers to establish and defend their clients' claims to patents, copyrights and trademarks protecting original artistic and scientific creations. LL.M. programs train students to understand specific patent, copyright and trademark laws, as well as general principles of economics and business. Legal issues in fields such as biotechnology, mass media and the Internet are also common topics. Other topics include:

  • Economic theories of the law
  • Food and drug law
  • Litigating and resolving disputes
  • Multinational intellectual property law
  • Patent litigation

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all lawyers, including patent attorneys, are expected to see 6% growth in total employment from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). In May 2015, the BLS stated that the median annual wage for all lawyers was $115,820. At that time, most lawyers worked in private practice, and many others were employed by local and state governments.

Licensure Information

Patent attorneys must complete two licensure regimens. First, like all lawyers in the U.S., they must pass a written bar examination in the state or territory in which they wish to practice. This is usually a state-designed examination, the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), or both of them. An additional legal ethics test might also be required. Applicant lawyers must have a J.D. from a school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) in order to sit for any of these licensing examinations.

Additionally, patent attorneys must be licensed as such by the USPTO, via passage of its standard Examination for Registration to Practice in Patent Cases Before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Lawyers who wish to take this examination must first demonstrate sufficient background in science either by submitting transcripts or by proving their professional experience in a scientific field. The exam itself has exactly 100 questions covering patent laws and regulations and professional ethics.

Continuing Education Information

With an LL.M., a graduate may be qualified to pursue the terminal Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree. This degree, offered by only a minority of all U.S. law schools, is research-intensive and is usually pursued by lawyers seeking to become law professors or scholars.

Overall, professional degrees in patent law are available at both the J.D. and the LL.M. levels. Experienced and aspiring lawyers can get the specific legal training in intellectual property through one of these programs.

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