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Patent Lawyer: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a patent lawyer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Patent lawyers specialize in the field of intellectual property. They may work with inventors during the patent process to ensure the inventors' works are legally protected.

Essential Information

Patent lawyers work in the specialty field of law governing intellectual property, specifically patents. Patent lawyers represent inventors during the patent application process and can function as litigators to protect their clients' rights of invention. Like other types of lawyers, patent lawyers must complete law school and earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.). In addition to passing their state bar exam to earn licensure, patent lawyers who want to argue before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) must pass an additional USPTO licensing exam.

Required Education Juris Doctor
Licensure Required in all states; patent lawyers must pass their state bar exam and, in some cases, the USPTO exam
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all lawyers
Median Salary (2015)* $115,820 for all lawyers

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Patent lawyers specialize in the area of law protecting the property rights of inventors. Applying for a patent is a complicated procedure that requires the expertise of a lawyer who is trained to interpret the rules and regulations of the patent process, negotiate contracts, file documents and provide legal representation to inventors.

Job Duties

Patent lawyers are involved in all aspects of law covering patents and the intellectual property rights of inventors. Conducting searches to ensure that an invention has not been previously represented in the public domain and is patentable is the first responsibility of a patent lawyer; following that, he or she drafts, files and prosecutes patent applications on behalf of inventors before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Patent attorneys also provide legal representation in cases of patent infringement, challenges to the license of an invention and appeals to the USPTO.

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Education Requirements

Prospective patent lawyers typically earn either a 4-year degree in a field of science like chemistry, biology or physics or a technical degree in electrical, civil, mechanical or biomedical engineering. Patent lawyers are required to complete a law program from an accredited law school and pass a state bar exam. If a patent lawyer would like to represent inventors in front of the USPTO, then he or she must sit for and pass the USPTO licensing exam, which is commonly known as the 'patent bar.' In cases where a lawyer has attained five years of continuous service with USPTO, the licensing exam is waived.

According to Worldwide Legal Directories, the field of patent law is complex and by its nature is always evolving . Therefore, continuing education courses are required for patent lawyers to remain up-to-date with current laws covering patents.

Employment Options and Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most patent attorneys, also known as intellectual property lawyer, work primarily with patents, inventions, and trademarks. The BLS reports job growth for lawyers is projected to increase 6% between 2014 and 2024 and that the median annual salary for lawyers was $115,820 as of May 2015.

Employers, especially the U.S. federal government, are increasingly hiring lawyers who practice in specialty fields of law like patent law to address the high amounts of patent filings and litigation proceedings. The USPTO implemented a strategic plan for fiscal years 2014-2018 to improve its overall functioning and shorten the processing time of patent application filings. Included in this plan is the active recruitment and hiring of patent lawyers.

Patent lawyers must complete their J.D. in law school, pass the state bar, and may also need to pass the USPTO licensing exam. The BLS predicts job growth for all lawyers from 2014-2024 will be as fast as average when compared to all occupations, and that lawyers earned a median annual salary of $115,820 as of May 2015.

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