A patent lawyer has a fascinating job, learning about new inventions and cutting-edge technology. Applying for a patent can be a difficult and time-consuming process, so inventors rely on patent lawyers to prepare their patent applications and defend them against infringement.
When preparing a patent application, an attorney must search for any prior work done on the same type of invention and ensure the scientific and legal accuracy behind the inventor's claims. A patent lawyer determines who owns the rights to various parts of an invention. The lawyer drafts the patent application and works with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, USPTO, to resolve any questions the patent examiner may have about the application. The attorney also licenses the patent after it is approved and represents clients whose patents have been infringed upon.
Education and Qualifications
Most patent lawyers have bachelor's degrees in a science, such as physics or chemistry. They also must have a juris doctor, or J.D., degree from an accredited law school. In addition to passing their state's bar exam and being a licensed attorney, a patent lawyer must also pass the USPTO's patent bar. The patent bar tests USPTO procedures, ethics and statutes. If an attorney does not have a bachelor's degree in a science field, he must take enough science credits, as defined by the USPTO, to qualify to sit for the patent bar. Most patent lawyers specialize in a specific area of science or technology, such as chemistry, physics or electrical engineering.
Patent lawyers typically work for intellectual property firms or corporations. Some may also work for universities or organizations that fund inventors and their research. They may also work for the federal government as patent examiners. The hours that patent attorneys work every week may be very long and intense, since their work requires a high degree of concentration and analysis of very technical information.
Salary and Employment
The USPTO reports that there are approximately 29,000 patent lawyers actively practicing in the United States. The annual average income of a patent lawyer ranges from $110,000 to $121,800. The exact salary depends on an attorney's education, specialization and years of experience. Patent lawyers who are partners at private law firms earn an average of $415,000 a year.