What Can You Do with a Patent Law Degree?

Many former fellows begin their law careers as patent agents before completing their J. D. to become patent attorneys. To become a patent agent, science graduates must pass the exam established by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).

If successful, they are allowed to write patents and represent clients before the PTO. Law firms, universities, and biotech and pharmaceutical companies routinely employ patent agents. Usually, one would manage your company's patent portfolio and licensing agreement. The main differences between a patent attorney and a patent agent are that the latter plays a less clearly defined role within the company than that of a patent attorney, and a patent agent is not allowed to handle litigation. Before taking the patent examination, you can gain experience as a patent analyst. Becoming a patent attorney in Australia Ian Rourke describes several ways to become a patent attorney in his native country.

With those cases, you'll learn to work with a team of lawyers from different areas of law and see how intellectual property fits into the big picture. Once certified, you can file and process patent applications on your own at your country's PTO. An apprentice can work for Bay Area law firms such as Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Morrison & Foerster and Latham & Watkins. The examiner shall review the application in the light of prior art and of that country's patent laws and regulations. These “breakfast” or “lunch and learning” meetings are held to educate local companies on basic issues related to intellectual property legislation and best practices for managing their patent portfolio.

Advice from a UK patent law jobseeker, Elaine Bell offers advice on how to start a patent law career in the United Kingdom, based on her own experience. It's rare to gain this same in-depth knowledge of general strategy when working externally at a law firm representing the client as when working internally. Mark Weaver, who works for European intellectual property, tells us what it's like to make the big decision about what is patented as a patent agent at the European Patent Office. Patent professionals who are not lawyers, once they have passed the patent agent exam, are often referred to as “patent agents” in the United States and Canada, or “patent attorneys” in the United Kingdom, Germany and some other jurisdictions. There are many texts that will teach you how to write a patent application and the applications that accompany it, but none of them will replace work experience. The primary function of a country's PTO is to allow the protection of intellectual property, including the granting of patents to those who deserve such protection in accordance with the relevant laws of that country.

A law firm is probably the best place to train to become a patent agent, as you will gain valuable training and experience in intellectual property law through exposure to a wide variety of topics related to patent law. On the other hand, intellectual property lawyers also help defend companies and individuals against exaggerated intellectual property claims by so-called “intellectual property stalkers”, that is, brands and companies that monitor their rights too aggressively. The application is then examined by a patent examiner, who will likely have academic qualifications similar to those of a patent attorney.

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