What Exactly Does a Patent Attorney Do?
The specific job tasks you’ll need to perform every day vary greatly depending on your employer, specific cases you undertake, and the circumstances of each patent. However, most employers will require you to be a member of a legal team in the Office of Legal Counsel. As such, you’ll need to work together with other staff members in the same office.
Most of the time, the patent lawyer job description involves providing legal advice to both staff and management on many aspects of intellectual property. Examples of such elements include IP-related government contract issues, licensing, copyrights, patents, inventions, and other business issues that have to do with the organization’s operations.
However, those mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg. Fully understanding the patent attorney job description means you’ll also perform a plethora of additional duties. For instance, you’ll need to develop procedures and policies, deliver critical training and communications, represent the organization to third-party entities, and solve problems. Additionally, your employer will expect you to interpret different regulations and laws, represent the organization before both foreign patent offices and the US Patent and Trademark Office, review and negotiate various non-disclosure agreements, and perform copyright reviews and transfers.
Most importantly, as a patent law attorney, you’ll proactively partake in negotiating and reviewing IP-related government contracts, as well as drafting and reviewing licenses. Last but not least, you’ll need to provide legal advice concerning the evaluation of inventions and prepare and prosecute both foreign and domestic patent applications.
Standard Education Requirements for Patent Lawyer Jobs
In the United States, your first order of business before entering the patent attorney job market is to obtain a standard four-year degree. Your degree may be in physics, biology, chemistry, or technical sciences, such as biomedical, mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering. After you’ve obtained your degree, you’ll need to attend a law school to complete a law program and pass a state bar exam.
Patent attorney qualifications differ if you’re looking to become a patent lawyer capable of representing investors in front of the USPTO. In that case, you’ll need to pass the patent bar, which is the conventional way of referring to the USPTO licensing exam. However, you may apply for a waiver, but it requires you to have at least five years of continuous service with USPTO.
On the other hand, a good percentage of candidates seeking patent lawyer jobs in the UK will go one step further. Such candidates will typically complete postgraduate studies, even though this level of education is not mandatory.
Alternatively, some candidates may opt for an LLM or Postgraduate Certificate in Intellectual Property. Also, speaking another language can significantly help with intellectual property attorney jobs in general, even though it’s not a strict requirement. The critical thing to remember when seeking employment in this field is that you’ll need to show an interest and skill in law, even though you may not be coming from a legal background.
Salary and Job Outlook
Intellectual property lawyers or patent attorneys primarily work with patents, trademarks, and inventions. With rapid technological progress and new inventions, the patent attorney job outlook looks promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a 9% increase in demand for lawyers by 2026, and patent lawyers should not be an exception.
Patent attorneys can expect to charge clients anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000, plus USPTO fees. Patent attorney cost varies, with more experienced ones in a better position. Namely, reports suggest that more experienced patent attorneys receive an hourly pay between $200 and $400.
The patent attorney starting salary can be as low as $41,000 and as high as $128,000. On the other hand, the patent attorney salary for an attorney with more than eight years of experience can be up to $214,000.
Patent lawyers’ salary is undoubtedly an important consideration when choosing a position to build a career. Still, there is no shortage of job offers for these expert legal professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also revealed that, in 2018, there were 823,900 lawyers in active employment. By 2028, the number should rise to almost 874,000.
Patent Attorney Job Openings
Senior Patent Attorney
Whenever you see the word “senior” next to a job posting, you immediately know two things. The first is that the job requirements are not standard, and the second is that it’s a viable career option. If you’re looking for senior patent attorney jobs in the US, you should know that the majority of openings for this position require candidates that have passed both a State Bar and the USPTO Patent Bar.
Additionally, most job postings typically require more than a decade of hands-on experience with ample preparation and prosecution related to patents in the US. At the same time, you’ll need either a master’s or bachelor’s degree in computer engineering or electrical engineering. The best way to stand out from other candidates when applying for senior patent attorney positions is to have experience in engineering or telecommunications.
Junior Patent Attorney
As far as junior positions go, you can expect to have an opportunity to prove your worth as a legal professional. When it comes to junior patent attorney contract jobs, you’ll closely work with the lead in-house intellectual property attorney. You’ll likely work on building your new company’s patent portfolio through joint efforts. Some of your primary responsibilities might include preparing, drafting, and filing patent applications, as well as evaluating the patentability of innovations.
At the same time, working closely with other in-house business teams and attorneys is typically a must, along with performing research and analysis. Solving IP- and patent-related issues will also be a part of your job responsibilities, as well as interacting with outside counsel regularly.
Standard requirements for junior patent law jobs include a mandatory bachelor’s degree in a scientific discipline, although having a master’s degree can certainly prove beneficial. As a candidate, you should also register with the USPTO as a patent attorney. Familiarity with software and hardware is usually necessary, and having a strong technical background tends to be very helpful. If you also have several years of experience in a technology company or law firm as a patent prosecutor, your chances of finding a job are excellent.
Law Firm Patent Attorney
One of the quickest and safest ways of finding entry-level patent attorney jobs is to limit your search to law firms. Intellectual property law departments exist in many large general practice firms in the US, not to mention that many firms specialize in intellectual property law. It doesn’t even have to be a large firm—you can also aim for mid-to-large size companies. The reason for broadening your search in terms of company size is that most jobs in law firms practice intellectual property law across a broad spectrum of different technologies. Such a vibrant business environment is the result of having a wide variety of clients.
As a result of accommodating these needs, law firms with large intellectual practices tend to hire attorneys with diverse technical backgrounds. With the number of patent attorneys in the US being around 40,000, this employment option may be ideal. The need to hire such experts comes from the fact that a corporate legal department typically doesn’t have the necessary personnel or the litigation expertise to handle their clients’ intellectual property litigation.
Regarding the matter of patent attorney vs. intellectual property attorney, the two are the same in this case. Regardless of your personal career preferences, you’re likely to experience a broader range of intellectual property law issues in large law firms, unlike smaller ones. You can even expect to encounter transactional, prosecution, and litigation work in a larger law firm.
In-House Patent Attorney in a Corporation
Patent attorney jobs are also available in private corporations, where you may seek employment as an in-house counsel on intellectual property issues. In such cases, you may need to gain expertise in the exclusive technology of the corporation. Eventually, you may become involved in business decisions connected to intellectual property protection.
Depending on the size and type of the company, the variety of corporate intellectual property work for in-house patent attorney jobs can significantly vary. If you’re looking for computer or pharmaceutical companies (large high-tech corporations), you are likely to be one of many in-house intellectual property lawyers in charge of drafting and prosecuting applications for patents. On the other hand, you’ll need to specialize in copyright law if you want to seek employment in record labels and publishing corporations. Then there are handling trademark matters for legal professionals that find work in marketing consumer products. As you’ll only have one client (the corporation), your job as an in-house intellectual property counsel will typically be very straightforward.
Government Patent Attorney
Opportunities for patent prosecution jobs also exist within the federal government. For instance, the much-cited USPTO, which is part of the Department of Commerce, employs numerous intellectual property attorneys. This institution is the principal federal provider of government patent attorney jobs. Many patent examiners working at the USPTO also have law degrees, even though it’s not mandatory. These legal professionals focus solely on reviewing patent applications, unlike patent trademark lawyers who must have a law degree to seek employment with this institution.
University/College Patent Attorney
Seeking patent attorney jobs in law firms is merely one option at your disposal. Intellectual property attorneys can also find employment in various universities and colleges, especially those educational institutions with substantial research and development departments. It’s not uncommon for the scientists and researchers at the universities to work with patent attorneys to identify inventions that have commercial sense.
It’s important to note that most universities and colleges prefer to work with external law firms. At the same time, there are also educational institutions that handle patent prosecution by themselves. In the latter case, the commercialization of the invention will occur through a joint effort between the university’s or college’s patent prosecution attorney and outside counsel. The transferring of the patented technology then takes place through assignment or licensing.
Non-Profit Organization Patent Attorney
Patent prosecution attorney jobs are also available in a not-for-profit environment. When looking for organizations that require intellectual property attorneys, the right place to start is art institutions, such as a theater company, an art gallery, or a museum. Note that intellectual property law positions in non-profit organizations tend to be highly competitive to obtain and very in-demand at the same time. Such job positions are ideal for building a career as they provide low cost and pro bono legal services to many members of the art community.
International Patent Attorney
If it’s international intellectual property law you’re aiming to specialize in, your safest option is law firms with international intellectual property law practices. You may also consider various international organizations and non-governmental agencies, many of which tend to offer remote patent attorney jobs.