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A patent lawyer could…

Hire a technical illustrator to create detailed drawings of an invention for a legal patent filing. Technical drawing of an invention show each part labeled by number Determine if an inventor's formula for an iridescent metallic compound is different enough to qualify for a new patent. Iridescent ribbons shine gold, green and blue
Protect a client's intellectual property by filing a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Logo for the United States Patent and Trademark Office Help a company lease the rights for a new way to print DNA chips used to diagnose genetic diseases. A gloved hand holding a DNA chip
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Microwave ovens, cell phones, video game consoles…all the electronics around you are possible due to technology invented by someone. Inventions can take months, even years of hard work and expense. So how does an inventor make sure that no one else steals their inventions? In this case, patent lawyers are the answer. They work within the legal system to help protect an inventor's original works and stop others from illegally profiting from them. Patent lawyers need to be both technically and legally savvy, knowing not only the law and intellectual property rights, but also understanding the science behind the invention.
Key Requirements Excellent verbal and written communication skills, detail-oriented work habits, persistence, tough-mindedness
Minimum Degree Professional degree (JSD)
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, calculus, English; if available, computer science
Median Salary
Patent Lawyer
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Education and Training

Becoming a patent lawyer usually takes seven years of full-time study after high school—four years of undergraduate study, followed by three years of law school. Law school applicants specializing in patents usually have a bachelor's degree in science or engineering to qualify for admission, or have passed the Fundamentals of Engineering examination.

Prospective lawyers should develop proficiency in writing and speaking, reading, researching, analyzing, and thinking logically—skills needed to succeed both in law school and in the law. Courses in English, foreign languages, public speaking, government, philosophy, history, economics, mathematics, and computer science, among others, are useful.

Acceptance by most law schools depends on the applicant's ability to demonstrate an aptitude for the study of law, usually through undergraduate grades, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), the quality of the applicant's undergraduate school, any prior work experience, and sometimes, a personal interview. However, law schools vary in the weight they place on each of these and other factors.

Upon completion of law school, graduates receive the degree of juris doctor (J.D.), a first professional degree. Advanced law degrees may be desirable for those planning to specialize, perform research, or teach.

To become a patent lawyer, individuals must pass both their state bar exam and the patent bar exam, also known as the Examination for Registration to Practice in Patent Cases Before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Requirements to pass the state bar exam depend upon the state in which the individual wishes to practice. The patent bar exam is a 100-question, multiple-choice exam. You must answer 70% of the questions to pass the patent bar exam. Candidates must also show that they have either received a bachelor's degree in science or engineering (category A), have earned college course credits in science or engineering (category B), or have passed the Fundamentals of Engineering examination. Law school graduates may also be asked to take one or all of the following: an ethics exam, an essay exam, or a performance exam.

Other Qualifications

The practice of law involves a great deal of responsibility. Individuals planning careers in law should like to work with people and be able to win the respect and confidence of their clients, associates, and the public. Perseverance, creativity, and reasoning ability also are essential to lawyers, who often analyze complex cases and handle new and unique legal problems arising from scientific advances.

Nature of the Work

The role of patent lawyers is to represent a client before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They prepare, file, and prosecute patent applications and help their clients protect their original work and intellectual property. Patent lawyers can advise their clients on how to license their inventions and whether to appeal decisions from the Patent Office, help them sue for possible patent infringements, determine whether someone is infringing upon their patent, and ascertain whether their client is infringing upon another party's patent.

In this video, a Pfizer employee discusses how he became a patent lawyer and what his duties for Pfizer entail. Based in the United Kingdom, he was given on-the-job training and then passed professional examinations to become a lawyer. Patent lawyers in the United States are required to attend law school and then pass the bar examination.

Patent lawyers can perform patent prosecution, where they specialize in obtaining patents for their clients. Patent lawyers can also work in patent litigation, where they go to court to protect their clients' patents. They can also work in a combination of these two roles. Patent lawyers must have adequate scientific and technical expertise in order to understand their clients' inventions. A career in patent law can be a rewarding way to combine technical, scientific, and legal interests.

Work Environment

Patent lawyers do most of their work in offices, law libraries, and courtrooms. They sometimes will meet clients at their place of business. They may travel to attend meetings, gather infringement evidence, and appear before courts, legislative bodies, and other authorities. They also may face particularly heavy pressure when a case is being tried.

Patent lawyers usually have structured work schedules. Patent lawyers who are in private practice or those who work for large firms may work irregular hours, including weekends, while conducting research, conferring with clients, or preparing briefs during non-office hours. All lawyers often work long hours; of those who work full time, about 33 percent work 50 or more hours per week.

On the Job

  • Perform patent searches.
  • Advise clients on whether their inventions are patentable.
  • Draft patent applications.
  • Examine incoming patent applications to determine whether the invention is novel.
  • Provide legal advice and counseling on a variety of matters including intellectual property, commercial transactions, product liability, and regulatory compliance.
  • Draft technology licenses and develop manufacturing and commercial agreements.
  • Litigate in court to protect clients from patent infringement.

Companies That Hire Patent Lawyers

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