Working on behalf of inventors and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent agent makes sure the intellectual property rights of an invention are upheld at all times. This means monitoring new patent applications to ensure they do not infringe upon the design of an existing patent, as well as calling out violations when necessary. A postsecondary degree in engineering or one of the physical sciences is needed for this career.
A patent agent, sometimes called a patent practitioner, provides assistance with the patent application process to inventors who are interested in obtaining a patent for an invention. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) approves these individuals to act as a liaison between the inventor and the office. They can work for individual inventors, the federal government or private citizens. They need a degree in a physical science or engineering and must pass an examination to be registered with the USPTO.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree in the physical sciences or engineering|
|Other Requirements||Registration with the USPTO|
|Median Annual Salary (2019)*||$98,799 for patent agents|
Patent agents help an inventor ensure that he or she is entitled to the intellectual property right that prevents others from using his or her invention in any way for a certain period of time and that there are no other similar inventions that prevent it from receiving a utility, design or plant patent conferred by the USPTO. A patent agent also might act as an intermediary between the federal patent office and the inventor, ensuring that the patent application is complete and resolving any questions about the invention. Additionally, he or she might have a role in prosecuting patent violations; however, patent agents are not attorneys and cannot bring cases in a court of law.
Patent agents, all of whom must hold a bachelor's degree in a field of engineering or physical science, have to complete an application, take a test and be registered with the USPTO before getting hired by private sector companies or citizens or the federal government. Universities, corporations and pharmaceutical companies also might hire patent agents, and some are self-employed.
Typical Job Duties
A patent agent helps an inventor with every aspect of the patent process. The agent first learns about the invention. Then, the patent agent researches other similar inventions and discusses the concept with other inventors to determine if there is any similarity to another invention that might prevent a patent from being issued. He or she then fully and clearly completes the patent application, with an eye toward anticipating any questions or objections the federal patent reviewer might have. A patent agent also might be authorized by the inventor to communicate with the USPTO on his or her behalf with regard to the application, answering questions or responding to a rejected application.
PayScale.com reported in October 2019 that the median salary for patent agents was $98,799. All reported salaries ranged from around $65,000 to $145,000.
In order to be registered to work on behalf of USPTO, patent agents need to submit an application and then pass an exam. A patent agent can work for the government, a private firm, or an individual inventor, and they are responsible for representing clients during every stage of the patent process. This career requires excellent research skills, because patent agents must work with inventors to learn about a new invention and then discover whether it might violate the intellectual property rights of an existing patent.