How to Become a Patent Agent: Career Path Guide
If you want to become a patent agent, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as a patent agent:
Those who become patent agents are extremely strong in academics and are emotionally stable, as this is required to complete short and long-term tasks. They must be willing to endure the years of education and training it takes to become a professional in this field.
Patent agents above all else must have excellent communication skills; they must be able to completely understand the invention based on the explanation of the inventor, and they must then be able to expound on the invention in written form during the preparation of a patent application.
Those who become patent agents are find great reward and inspiration in being exposed to the latest inventions and innovations, in addition to being rewarded with a generous salary.
Those who become patent agents are typically drawn to this career because it allows them to utilize their technical expertise outside of traditional academia; an environment that allows them to work with inventors, represent the interests of others, and ultimately work closely with others to help them.
Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a patent agent. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!
Education Needed to Become a Patent Agent in the United States
To become a patent agent in the United States, you need an undergraduate degree in a qualifying field. Such a field may include in biology, computer science, electronics technology, chemistry, pharmacology, physics, or engineering. Please see this PDF from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a full list of eligible fields.
You don’t necessarily need law degree to become a patent agent. However, having a law degree qualifies you to become a patent attorney, and only patent attorneys can help clients with legal issues such as patent validity, infringement cases, and all patent litigation.
Some colleges, such as the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University in Phoenix, offers a Master’s of Legal Studies with a Patent Practice Emphasis program for non-lawyers, especially those who have a technical background.
Patent Agent Job Description
Acting as a liaison between the Patent Office and the inventor, patent agents are responsible for representing applicants before the Patent Office in an effort to obtain patent protection. Patent agents begin working with clients when the client first conceives an invention; the patent agent must assess the patentability of an invention by searching prior patents. Typically, patent agents specialize in specific technical fields such as electronics or information technology.
Patent agents may also have a role in prosecuting patent violations; however, they are not attorneys and therefore do not bring cases to a court of law.
Patent Agent Job Duties
• Liaise with inventor to gain thorough understanding of the invention, as well as its specifications and applications
• Assess the patentability of an invention
• Work with the inventor to prepare a document that is sufficient to teach anyone else who is skilled in the field of the invention to be able to reproduce and work the invention
• Accurately describe the invention
• May be called upon to provide an opinion as to whether the claims of an issued patent are infringed upon
• Draft specification document, which contains claims to the exclusive rights of the invention for the inventor
Education Needed to Become a Patent Agent in Canada
In Canada there are currently no formal educational requirements to become a patent agent. However, getting a job as a patent agent is nearly impossible without a degree in engineering or science.
Becoming a patent agent requires a strong body of knowledge in a specific area of science or engineering. Because of this, many patent agent have an educational background in a specific area of science or engineering at the doctoral level. In fact, many employers prefer to only hire patent agent trainees with a doctoral degree. Of course there are exceptions; applicants that have a bachelor's degree may be hired in place of an applicant with a graduate degree provided the bachelor's degree is also accompanied by extensive career experience.
Typically, aspiring patent agents are hired as trainees, and their apprenticeship is what provides them with the necessary knowledge to work as a patent agent.
Becoming Certified in the United States: Passing the USPTO Patent Bar Exam
In order to be registered as a patent agent (or patent attorney) in the United States, you must pass the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) registration examination. This exam is officially known as the Examination for Registration to Practice in Patent Cases Before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and it’s known unofficially known as the Patent Bar.
If applying for exam registration as an agent or attorney, you must meet three basic requirements:
1. Good moral character
2. Legal, scientific and technical qualifications necessary to render valuable service
3. Competence to advise and assist patent applicants in the presentation and prosecution of patent applications
The exam is a 100-question, multiple-choice test, which takes about 6 hours to complete. The required score to pass is 70%, or 63 correct out of the 90 graded questions (10 questions are “Beta” questions that are not officially graded).
Becoming a Patent Agent in Canada: Qualifying Exam
To become a patent agent in Canada, you must also pass a qualifying exam. In order to be eligible for writing the Patent Agent Qualifying Examination you must be a resident of Canada and have worked for at least 12 months in the area of Canadian patent law and practice (no law degree required, just work experience in the field), including preparing and prosecuting patent applications. This requirement may change to 24 months, as has been proposed by Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office administers this examination and maintains the Register of Patent Agents. This exam is notoriously challenging and most applicants attempt the exam over several years.
After passing the exam, a Canadian patent agent can also register as a U.S. patent agent, meaning they are then able to represent Canadian applicants before the U.S. patent office. However, in order to work as a patent agent within the U.S., you are still required to write and pass the U.S. patent bar examinations.
Note: You do not need a Law degree to become a Patent Agent; having a Law degree and passing the qualifying examination allows you to become a Patent Attorney.
Who Hires Patent Agents? Where Do They Work?
Patent agents are hired by organizations that represent applicants before the Patent Office in an effort to obtain patent protection. They may also be hired by organizations that research and develop inventions or purchase the rights to inventions.
Organizations that hire Patent Agents may include:
• Large corporations
• Law firms that practice intellectual property law
• General practice law firms
• Federal government agencies
• Colleges and universities
• Self-employment (representing clients seeking patents)
Please Note: To remain eligible to practice in Canada, patent agents must also pay an annual fee in order to remain on the Register of Patent Agents.
Patent Agent Jobs
Patent Agent Jobs - Canada
Patent Agent Jobs - Untied States
Patent Agent Salary
The salary level of patent agents can vary based on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, what their field of specialty is and many others.
There is no reliable salary data available in Canada for Patent Agents specifically, however we can get an idea of what their earnings are by looking at the salary level of closely related professions.
Patent Agent Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the salary range for Patent Agents is between $110,000 and $121,800 (2008 figures).
Patent Agent Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of workers in the Lawyers and Quebec Notaries occupational group is $109,794 per year.
Skills Needed to Become a Patent Agent
There are many qualities one needs to become effective in a career as a patent agent. These traits and qualities allow patent agents to perform their job duties with competence, as well as allow them to endure the ups and downs of the profession.
Effective Communication: A patent agent must gain a full understanding of the invention by listening to the inventor. The agent must be able to then expand on the invention in written form during the preparation of a patent application. A patent agent must also be able to present information in such a way that technical and non-technical individuals can understand it.
Creativity: A good patent agent is able to envision the invention for what it could be, not just what the inventor has already done with it.
Time Management: Effective patent agents have an acute awareness of how to efficiently use the limited time available to produce the best product possible.
Determination: A lot of commitment and determination is needed to persevere through the pressures and difficulties of a career as a patent agent...such as the exam process.
Careers Similar to Patent Agent
Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Patent Agent, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.
References: How to Become a Patent Agent
Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a Patent Agent.
Alberta Learning and Information Service website: alis.alberta.ca
Intellectual Property Institute of Canada website: www.ipic.ca
Service Canada website: www.servicecanada.gc.ca
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics - Lawyer website: www.bls.gov
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics - Patent Agent website: www.bls.gov
United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website: www.uspto.gov
Scholarships for Becoming a Patent Agent
Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that apply to becoming a Patent Agent can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!
Becoming a Patent Agent: Applicable Majors
Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a Patent Agent. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!