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Patent Agent Certification: Information and Requirements

Enrollment with the United States Patent and Trademark Office is required patent agents. Get some quick facts about the experience and requirements necessary to qualify for patent agents certification.

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The requirements for becoming a patent agent include completing a bachelor's degree in one of the physical sciences or engineering fields, and becoming registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Registration with USPTO does not provide agents with certification, but it does allow them to work in the field and represent inventors who are looking to secure a patent. Only after an individual is registered with USPTO may they practice as a patent agent.

Essential Information

Patent agents assist inventors during the processing of their patent application on new ideas or inventions. Becoming a patent agent requires both a technical or scientific expertise and a mastery of the process. While patent agents do not specifically become certified, they must sign up with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in order to practice their trade.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Enrollment with the US Patent and Trademark Office
Expected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 5% (all legal occupations)
Median Salary (2016)** $91,953

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Payscale.com

Patent Agent Overview

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, patent agents are specialists who possess expertise in both the scientific and legal aspects of the patenting process (www.bls.gov). Patent agents are hired by individuals or groups who have an invention they would like to patent; the patent agent then helps them through the complexities of having their application processed (referred to as 'prosecuting' the patent application).

Although patent agents and patent attorneys are both called 'patent practitioners', the two differ in that patent agents are not necessarily attorneys, but may instead be professionals from another field who are knowledgeable in the patenting process. While patent agents and patent attorneys share many of the same responsibilities during the prosecution of a patent application, there are certain legal functions that agents are not allowed to perform if they are not also attorneys, such as formally representing a client in court or accepting fees for legal advice. According to Payscale.com, patent agents earned a median salary of $91,953 in October 2016.

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Patent Agent Requirements

Patent agents are not certified, per se, but they are enrolled with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the government organization that grants patents. Enrollment as a patent agent is only possible for individuals who have met specific criteria: possession of an accredited bachelor's degree (or higher) in a subject related to science or technology, good moral character, proof of citizenship or lawful presence in the United States and a demonstration of competence by passing an exam.

The type of degree that the applicant possesses is particularly important to the USPTO. Because much of the work of patent agents requires a clear understanding of highly technical or scientific inventions, the applicant's college transcript must show that the applicant has successfully completed substantial coursework in subjects such as physics, biology, engineering or chemistry. Degrees in other subjects, including the social or behavioral sciences, are not acceptable unless paired with additional scientific training or acceptable experience.

The exam is also extremely important since it demonstrates that the aspiring patent agent is familiar enough with the USPTO's rules and procedures to help others through the prosecution of their patent applications. The exam consists of detailed questions related to the patenting process. The exam also includes fictional scenarios which give the examinee the chance to describe how he or she would handle them. Preparation courses to help applicants do well on the exam are available through private companies.

Once the future patent agent passes the exam and satisfies the other requirements, the USPTO will review his or her application for enrollment and issue a final decision. If accepted, the patent agent may then begin helping others through the patenting process. Applicants who are denied enrollment may reapply only if their denial was not due to problems that cause permanent ineligibility, such as poor moral character or a felony conviction.

Patent agents need to have a solid scientific or engineering background, thoroughly understand the complex patent process, and conduct research to ensure a patent does not violate another invention's intellectual property rights. Becoming registered with the USPTO requires a bachelor's degree, proof of citizenship or residency, and the successful completion of an exam. Degrees for patent agents must be technical or scientific in nature, and having completed a bachelor's degree with a major in social science, for example, is unacceptable.

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