Career opportunities in intellectual property law

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These are commonly asked questions about careers in intellectual property law.

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What is the difference between a patent attorney and a patent agent?

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The majority of patent practitioners in the United States are patent attorneys. A patent attorney is defined as someone who is admitted to practice before the courts of at least one state in the U.S., and who is also admitted to practice before the U.S. Patent Office.

In contrast, a patent agent is someone who is admitted to practice before the U.S. Patent Office but who is not provided any proof to the U.S. Patent Office that he or she is admitted to practice before at least one court in the United States. Thus, some patent agents (the ones who happen to be attorneys also) could become patent attorneys simply by filing the appropriate papers with the U.S. Patent Office establishing that they are also admitted attorneys. Many patent agents are people with strong technical backgrounds who have not attended law school or who are in the process of attending law school.

Some people also use the term "patent attorney" to include attorneys who are not admitted to practice before the Patent Office, but who represent parties in patent litigation and other legal matters. Such attorneys may or may not have technical backgrounds. (Note that an attorney that is not admitted to practice before the Patent Office may represent parties in patent litigation but may not prosecute patent applications. On the other hand, a patent agent may prosecute patent applications but may not represent parties in patent litigation.)

For a particular inventor who wishes to apply for a patent, there is no simple answer as to whether it is better to use a patent attorney or patent agent. It is our experience that some patent practitioners (attorneys or agents alike) who have never set foot in a courtroom and who have never litigated patents tend not to give as much attention as they might to aspects of the wording of patent claims that could make a difference in the strength of the claims if litigated. Thus, for the inventor who wants to get patent claims that have the strongest likelihood of prevailing in litigation, there is something to be said for having at least one patent practitioner involved who has litigated patents. Obviously this is an oversimplification, and there are many patent attorneys and agents who have never litigated a patent but who nonetheless are very good at thinking about how to make the patent claims as strong as possible for litigation.

It might be thought that this factor makes a patent attorney always a better choice than a patent agent, but such is not necessarily the case. After all, it is also very important that the patent practitioner be someone who understands the technology of the invention. If your stark choice is between a patent agent who understands your invention and a patent attorney who does not, in general it would be best to go to the patent agent to prepare the patent application. Some commenters have also noted that on average a patent agent does not charge as much per hour as a patent attorney. It is our experience that the hourly billing rate of a patent agent or patent attorney is not a particularly important number. After all, someone who is very experienced at drafting patent applications may be able to prepare an application in a shorter amount of time than someone who is inexperienced. And someone who understands your invention quickly will be able to prepare a patent application more efficiently than someone who requires much study.

It is important not to forget that the applicant's selection of a patent professional is not irrevocable. At any time prior to filing or during the pendency of a patent application the applicant may change counsel, by simply granting a power of attorney to the new patent attorney or agent.

If there were an efficient market for the provision of patent services, then perhaps one could be sure that a higher price would indicate that one is getting more value. Of course, there is little reason to think that the market is particularly efficient, and there are probably some patent agents and attorneys who charge very high hourly rates and yet are not necessarily as good at their jobs as others who charge less.

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What technical background is needed to be allowed to take the patent bar exam?

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The Office of Enrollment and Discipline of the U.S. Patent Office has a General Requirements Bulletin which answers this question. (See Contacting the Office of Enrollment and Discipline.)

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Which law school should I attend if I am interested in intellectual property law?

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Alternate forms of this question are:

Related questions are:

Here is one person's perspective on the answers to these questions. Obviously one should get other opinions besides mine. The smart thing to do is to call up the persons or companies who would be your clients, and ask them for their opinions.

First, I am delighted that the question is asked. There are job opportunities for bright, clever patent lawyers in the US.

By "bright, clever patent lawyers" I mean persons who meet this description: very strong background in physics, electronics, at least a year of chemistry, programs in assembler and high-level computer languages, and high LSAT score. Or, very strong background in biochemistry (i.e. a Ph.D.) and high LSAT score. And see the generally encouraging statement regarding intellectual property law.

All the time there are people who would make good patent lawyers going to law school, graduating and unaccountably doing something completely different, such as banking law. I hope this FAQ would encourage some of those people to think of patent law as well.

Picking a law school. Yes, there are a number of law schools that are repeatedly mentioned as being good places to study patent law. My advice is to pay no attention to that. Go to the highest reputation school you can get admitted to, regardless of whether or not it is known for patent law. There are several reasons I say this.

It is of less than no interest to me if the person went to one of the law schools that is said to be particularly good for patent law. I don't even notice that on resumes.

The fact is, even at one of the law schools that is said to be particularly good for patent law, you are (one hopes) learning mostly non-IP things -- contracts, civil procedure, torts, property ... and for those things you want to learn the most you can. You are not going to learn, say, contracts better because you are at a school with what is said to be a good patent course.

The fact also is, very little of what is taught in IP courses helps one to become a practitioner in the field. An enormous portion of what you need to know to be a good patent lawyer is learnable only on the job, from an experienced practitioner. To learn those things, it matters little which law school you attended, nor does it matter whether or not you took a patent law course, or a copyright law course.

So the basic advice is, go to a law school with an excellent overall reputation ... Harvard, or Yale, or Chicago, or NYU, or Boalt, or Stanford, or Columbia ... and on down through the first and second and third tiers of law schools.

So it doesn't matter, if my view is correct, for your resume to list patent courses, or to list that you are attending a school known for patents.

So you might ask, what would help a resume for someone who is in law school and hopes to do patent law?

One thing is to have a resume showing a strong technical background. An engineering degree from a good engineering school, with good grades, for example.

Another is to have already taken and passed the patent bar exam. You don't have to have graduated from law school, or even have attended any law school, to take that exam. (See Signing up for the patent bar exam.) Several organizations offer review courses for the exam.

Turning now to the related question. "I have no technical background (or a weak technical background) but want to do intellectual property law. What should I do?"

This is a tough one. You would be unlikely to be comfortable doing patent law, if you were unable to understand what the inventors/clients were saying. Besides which, if you have little technical background it is very tough to get permission from the Patent Office to even sit for the patent bar exam. (See What technical background is needed to be allowed to take the patent bar exam?.)

Some people in this situation try to find work doing copyright work, or trademark work, or entertainment law. Some people try to find work doing "computer law", a somewhat ill-defined bundle of types of work. And there are actually a small handful of patent law firms (actually, only one that I know of) that say they will gladly hire a law graduate even if that person does not have a technical background. The firm I am thinking of does lots of litigation, and apparently figures that clients will pay to be represented by a firm if that firm staffs the case with a mix of technically-trained and non-technically-trained people.

But on the whole, it is difficult to prosper as a lawyer if one does not have a strong understanding of the subjects that one's clients are dealing with. And technical fields are notoriously difficult for people to understand unless they have either good training or a natural knack for the subject. (Imagine attempting to do medical malpractice law if one not only had never dealt with a doctor or healer of any sort, but also had never been sick and had no understanding of human anatomy.) Concentrating in copyright or trademark law or "computer law" rather than patent law may reduce the needed technical knowledge, but if one is unfamiliar with the customs, usages, markets and whatnot of the technical people who are one's clients, one will still be at a disadvantage.

One is more likely to prosper if one has a strong technical background and works as a patent agent than if one has no technical background and works as an intellectual property lawyer for technical clients. At the very least, the amount of time and money one needs to invest in becoming a patent agent is far less, making it more likely that one can get a reasonable return on the investment.

I do patent law, mostly, and do it for clients who are well served only if the lawyer has a very strong technical background. So I suppose it is quite natural that I think of that as the "main" area of intellectual property law, and the other areas as peripheral. Of course, that might fail to do justice to lots of other intellectual property work that one might do.

The hokey story I tell is this: when I was a little child, I would take things apart to see how they work. Now, I get paid quite a lot of money to take things apart and see how they work. It's kind of like being paid to make mud pies, I suppose. If you feel that way too, then maybe patent law is for you.

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Do I need to be a lawyer to take the patent bar exam? Is it possible to pursue a career in patent law without having to go to law school?

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Q. Do I need to be a lawyer to take the patent bar exam?

A. No. Indeed, those who are in law school and are thinking of practicing patent law would be wise to consider studying for and taking the exam long before graduating from law school.

Q. Is it possible to pursue a career in patent law without having to go to law school?

A. Yes. Some people choose to become a "patent agent", which is a person with a strong technical background who has passed the patent bar exam and has been admitted to practice before the US Patent Office.

Signing up for the patent bar exam.

What technical background is needed to be allowed to take the patent bar exam?

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How do I sign up to take the patent exam?

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Write to

Mail Stop OED
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
PO Box 1450
Alexandria, Virginia 22313-1450
telephone: +1 571-272-4097
fax: +1 571-273-0074

See the OED announcements at http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/olia/oed/grb.pdf for more information.

What technical background is needed to be allowed to take the patent bar exam?

Do I need to be a lawyer to take the patent bar exam?

When is the patent bar exam offered?

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When is the patent bar exam offered?

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For more information, contact the Office of Enrollment and Discipline.

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What is the pass rate for the patent bar exam?

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The pass rate for the patent bar exam is much lower than most state bar exams.

The Statistics from examinations administered from June 9, 2005 through October 17, 2006 show that 58.2% of the 4,165 candidates passed the exam.

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Who offers patent bar exam review courses?

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The following organizations offer patent bar review courses, which you should contact for dates, locations, and cost:

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Do I have to take a review course to be able to pass the patent bar exam?

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Every now and then I meet someone who passed the patent bar exam without taking a review course. Typically such a person was working at a patent firm at the time. A few people passed even though they did not take the course and did not work at a patent firm -- they used the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (which contains the Patent Code and the Patent Rules) and copies of old exams. They studied and studied and studied, working all the old exams and making flash cards and doing all the other things one might do to prepare fully.
See Where can I get copies of past exams?

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Can I just buy the study materials for the patent bar exam course and not take the course?

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Call the company you are interested in and find out. Generally, yes. Or you may be able to buy a used set of study materials from someone who has already passed the patent bar exam.

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Which classes should I take in law school to enhance my intellectual property career?

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It is perhaps understandable that many law students are under the impression that it is essential that they take certain courses (e.g. patent law, copyright law, trademark law) or run the risk of losing out later on employment prospects in intellectual property law. It's not so, as will be described in some detail here. Such a misimpression is perhaps not unrelated to the misimpression that it is important to attend a law school that is said to be well known for intellectual property law. (See also our essay on selecting law schools for a career in intellectual property law.) Most intellectual property employers attended law schools that had patent courses that weren't particularly good, or were only offered in alternate years, or that weren't offered at all. As a consequence those employers are unlikely to hold it against you if you didn't take a patent law course while in law school. (What will be held against you, for many IP jobs, is a weak or nonexistent technical background.)

Let us return to the question presented -- which classes should I take? The answer is, any classes you like. The professors who are intellectually challenging, who serve as good role models, who keep you awake in class, those are the professors you should spend time with, regardless of the particular subjects they teach. Every successful lawyer will be able to tell you about his or her favorite professor in law school, the professor whose work has most strongly benefited that lawyer in the decades that followed ... and most often that professor will have taught some subject that has no connection with what that lawyer does for a living now. The profession of law is a profession of personal development, and the skills that really matter (analysis, writing, speaking, ferreting-out, bargaining, interviewing, wordsmithing) don't fall exclusively into any particular course or subject.

The persistent reader may press the question: "Suppose I have such good fortune that my law school offers truly inspirational faculty in all areas. Then what classes should I take to enhance my career in intellectual property law?" In response, we offer comments on some important courses:

Sometimes the person who asks "what classes should I take in law school?" is really asking a different question, namely "what can I do now, while I am in law school, to improve my chances of getting That First Job Out Of Law School?" From the above comments it should be clear that one's choice of courses in law school is not going to make the slightest difference to the employer who is sifting tall stacks of resumes from law students. That employer is likely to be strongly influenced by things that jump off the resume, things that are objectively confirmable and that provide unmistakeable indications that the applicant shows promise. What are those things? Well, most of them are things you can't change once you are in law school, such as the general reputation of the law school you are attending (see our essay on selecting a law school)and the strength of your technical background. One thing that is within your power to change while you are in law school, that is objectively confirmable, and that provides an unmistakeable indication about you, is whether or not you have passed the USPTO patent exam. If you can put on your resume that you have already passed that exam (you need not have graduated from law school to take it) then your resume will automatically rise to the top of any pile of resumes in which it is located. See related essays such as:

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What kinds of questions are on the patent bar exam?

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As should be evident upon a moment's reflection (since the test-takers come from any of a wide variety of technical backgrounds), the questions on the patent bar exam are not designed to test your technical knowledge. They are not engineering or science questions.

The best way to find out what kinds of questions are on the patent bar exam is to obtain and study past exams. See Where may I obtain copies of past patent bar exams?

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Where may I obtain copies of past patent bar exams?

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Contact the Office of Enrollment and Discipline to purchase the old exams. The 1998 exam and answers are available online. Or, if you are planning to sign up for a commercial review course for the patent bar exam, keep in mind that the course will provide copies of past exams.

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This sounds so bleak. Should I give up hope of a rewarding career in the law?

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The plain fact is that if one wishes to select a profession based the extent to which the profession provides consistent rewards for those who are good at what they do, the law generally is a good choice and intellectual property law is a very good choice. There are many other fields (being a rock star, for example, or a painter or author) in which the long-term rewards are very strongly controlled by things like being in the right place at the right time, and in which, for each person who is successful there are tens or hundreds of people with equal merit who never achieve success even though they may be equally deserving of it. In contrast, the field of law (and particularly the specialty of intellectual property law) offers a world in which those who are very good at what they do can be confident that it will be recognized and rewarded.

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What are the job prospects, in the non-patent areas of IP law, for lawyers who do not have technical backgrounds?

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This is a tough question. But first, let me remind you that what follows is one opinion. You should seek opinions of others before making any major career decisions.

The main difficulty is that the number of such jobs is far, far smaller than the number of people seeking them. I suspect the excess of applicants is a ratio of ten to one or worse. Think of the factors that help to explain this excessage:

For all these reasons the number of non-techie resumes is far, far greater than the number of non-techie jobs. That's the job demand side. Now let's look at the job supply side.

Consider what it is like if you are staffing an intellectual property law firm. From time to time you have varying percentages of different kinds of work. For a year or two, you have mostly patent, let's say, and only a little copyright. Then for a couple of years a big copyright lawsuit or two consumes a large portion of the firm's personnel. Then it shifts back again. If all the lawyers in the firm have techie backgrounds and are admitted to practice before the Patent Office, then you can effortlessly accommodate these shifts. The patent lawyers can easily enough do the copyright work, etc. If, on the other hand, the firm hired say half techies and half non-techies, then you have times when there is not enough work to keep all the non-techies fully billable. The firm's profitability suffers, or the non-techies get laid off. After a couple cycles of this, the firm's partners catch on that there is a drawback to hiring non-techies.

Does this mean that if you lack a technical background you should dispair of ever doing intellectual property law? No, of course not. Some IP firms have a few trademark specialists, for example. And there are jobs in private industry, not very many but a few, in fields such as copyright clearance, copyright licensing, and computer contracting, for example. And see the generally encouraging statement regarding intellectual property law.

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I have <large number> years of experience as a <physicist, electrical engineer, computer programmer, industrial manager, etc.> -- will that improve my job prospects in intellectual property law?

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This is just one opinion, and of course you should seek others and not accept this one opinion as authoritative. In this writer's opinion, the general answer is "no" except perhaps in the area of biotech. Let me elaborate, but first let me emphasize that this answer is in response to a rather narrow question, namely the connection between large numbers of years of technical experience and job prospects. See also the discussion below regarding the value of advanced degrees for one's job prospects. Your question can be broken up into parts.

Part 1. Value of years of experience in the pesky issue of Getting That First Job Out Of Law School. Having years of experience adds nothing, and is in fact a slight negative for many potential employers. The end of the Cold War, the downsizing of corporate America, reductions in funding for academic programs, and other factors have prompted tens of thousands of engineers, researchers, and computer programmers to return to law school after some years in real life. Once in law school, these people join their classmates in hearing the dismaying news that at many law schools a substantial fraction of the people who graduate just can't find work at all. Since intellectual property law has job prospects that are less bleak than for law as a whole, this prompts an understandable stampede to apply for intellectual property jobs. If you fit this pattern, you may assume that your resume will get stuck in the heaps with all of these other resumes. What's worse is that your resume will likely end up in the same heaps, when being sorted by potential employers, as the resumes that show no technical experience beyond simply a four-year bachelor's degrees. Yet another strike against you, in the eyes of many potential employers, is that if you have many years of technical experience, this simply cuts back on the number of years during which the firm might be able to benefit from the rather substantial training investment it would make in you. Still another concern is that if someone has a decade of technical experience in field X, that person may have "blinders" on and be incapable of appreciating aspects of an invention that are out of area X, or may be unable or unwilling to write patent applications in areas other than X.

Part 2. A distinct but related question is the value of years of experience in the longer-term issue of serving clients well. Again, years of experience may add little or nothing. What really matters is your basic intelligence, ability to learn new things very quickly, and your strong academic or experience grounding in all areas -- chemistry, industrial processes, software, electrical engineering, biology, physics, mathematics.

I have no doubt that for someone with a decade or more of experience in some technical field it can be disheartening to hear the suggestion that the experience might detract from, rather than add to, one's job prospects. Again let me stress that you are simply getting one person's opinion. And see the generally encouraging statement regarding intellectual property law.

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I have a Ph.D. in <physics, electrical engineering, computer science, industrial management, etc.> -- will that improve my job prospects in intellectual property law?

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This is just one opinion, and of course you should seek others and not accept this one opinion as authoritative. In this writer's opinion, the general answer is "no" except perhaps in the area of biotech. Let me elaborate, but first let me emphasize that this answer is in response to a rather narrow question, namely the connection between advanced degrees and job prospects. See also the discussion above regarding the value of years of technical experience for one's job prospects. Your question can be broken up into parts.

Part 1. Value of degrees etc. in the pesky issue of Getting That First Job Out Of Law School. The PhD (except for biotech work) adds nothing, and is in fact a slight negative for many potential employers. Some will assume that you want to be paid more than someone having only a bachelor's degree in your field, for example. Some will assume that you are going to turn up your nose when asked to do an EE or ChemE or MechE or software or biotech patent application, or, if you don't turn up your nose, they fear you won't be able to do it. In fact, you may assume that your resume will end up in the same heaps, when being sorted by potential employers, as the resumes with mere bachelor's degrees. A further problem in the eyes of many employers is that if you have a PhD, then on average you are older than a candidate lacking a PhD, which reduces the payback period for the rather substantial training investment that the firm will have to make in any new hire. (As mentioned above, the only field where a PhD is a plus is biotech patent law.)

Part 2. Value of degrees etc. in the longer-term issue of serving clients well. Again, the PhD adds little or nothing. What really matters is your basic intelligence, ability to learn new things very quickly, and your strong academic or experience grounding in all areas -- chemistry, industrial processes, software, electrical engineering, biology, physics, mathematics.

I have no doubt that for someone with a prestigious and hard-won advanced degree, it can be disheartening to hear the suggestion that the degree might detract from, rather than add to, one's job prospects. Again let me stress that you are simply getting one person's opinion. And see the generally encouraging statement regarding intellectual property law.

I am sometimes asked how a law firm will evaluate the technical background of an applicant. I suspect that the majority of intellectual property employers do virtually nothing to independently evaluate an applicant's technical background. Instead, they look at the resume and more or less make a stab-in-the-dark guess. The result, all too often, is hiring someone who looks good on paper but who annoys clients by not understanding what they are saying. When I (Oppedahl) am interviewing a candidate I will ask a variety of questions that are intended to illuminate the candidate's knowledge or background across many disciplines. I'll point to something and ask how it works. I'll ask a variety of question that call upon things that the candidate should have learned in calculus, and first-year chemistry, and first-year physics. I'll ask the candidate to estimate something (how many gas stations are there in the US, say) and tell me their estimation process.

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How much money do patent attorneys make?

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The American Intellectual Property Law Association conducts a survey of its members every two years on economic issues. The 2005 survey report is some 200 pages long and contains the results of a survey directed to the patent practice of its members in 2004.

The median income of those responding was about $187,000. The 75th-percentile income was about $270,000. The 25th-percentile income was about $132,000.

The respondents include partners in patent firms, lawyers in corporate practice, and others. The median income for partners in private firms was about $300,000, for associates in private firms was about $137,000, and for solo practitioners was about $160,000, while that for corporate lawyers and others was about $175,000. The median reported first-year associate salary was about $125,000.

There are a multitude of reasons why one should not attach too much significance to these numbers. For example, the respondents were limited to the membership of AIPLA. And the respondents might have self-selected to some extent; recipients of the survey who were unemployed were perhaps less likely to respond than those who were making lots of money. More importantly, these numbers do not say very much about how many years the respondents have been in practice. (The survey, which makes for very interesting reading, does analyze the data by years-in-practice, by geographic locality of practice, by technological patent practice area, and by numerous other parameters.)

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What is a typical day of work for a patent attorney or agent?

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It should not be a surprise that there is no single answer to this question. Some patent attorneys, especially associates in large-firm practice, spend nearly the whole day (and the whole night) working on patent litigations. This can consist of digging through boxes-full of documents, visiting client locations to look at boxes-full of documents, supervising paralegals who are stamping numbers on boxes-full of documents, and assisting in the delivery of boxes of documents to deposition sites and to court for trial. After some time, the associate's responsibilities may increase to include taking depositions and defending depositions (questioning witnesses and representing witnesses who are being questioned). In a patent firm that does a lot of litigation, the people who have the most fun are those who get to appear in court. In many firms, this tends to be partners and experienced associates.

Still other patent attorneys, especially those in corporate employ and associates in some medium-sized and smaller patent firms, spend most of the day preparing and prosecuting patent applications. Most patent agents do this also.

Another category of patent work is licensing. Some people spend all day doing licensing (for example, those who work in the patent licensing department of a large university or large corporation). This involves contract drafting, but more importantly requires some negotiating skill and experience.

Still another category is opinion work. A client will want to know whether some proposed product or course of action will infringe the patent rights of others. To write an opinion letter, the lawyer must be familiar with the patent or patents being discussed and with the client's technology. Sometimes the result of such study is a modification of the client's product to avoid infringement.

The original question was what patent lawyers do all day. There are other things which rarely fill up an entire day, but which form part of one's practice. Preparing and filing software copyright registration applications. Advising clients on how to avoid copyright infringement when designing products that are intended to be compatible with other products. Helping clients choose trademarks that are unlikely to infringe others' trademarks, and filing trademark registration applications. Helping clients choose internet domain names. Reviewing advertisement copy, press releases, and other official communications for intellectual property problems.

For many patent lawyers the most comfortable practice is one that includes a mix of all of these things. A day or two may be spent writing a patent application, then perhaps several days are devoted to studying the patents of an adversary of one's client. Then perhaps it is time to write a brief or make a court appearance. At the end of a hard day drafting patent claims, it can be a relief to spend a bit of time on trademark work, also known as "brain candy". Throughout all this, the most satisfying experiences are the times spent communicating with, counseling, and guiding clients, often through personal conversations.

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Does a computer science degree permit me to sit for the patent bar exam?

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The US Patent Officerules permit some people with computer science degrees to take the exam. Here is a notice from the October 2, 1995 issue of the Official Gazette:

Notice Regarding Acceptance of Computer Science Degrees For The Examination For Registration on Wednesday, August 28, 1996
In order to further the development and competitiveness of high tech industries, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been working diligently to encourage innovation in the computer-related technologies and software fields by providing innovators with the legal protection they need to successfully promote their inventions. Because we recognize the value of services that can be provided by registered practitioners with qualifications in the high tech industries, we will include in Category A, as prima facie proof of possession of the scientific and technical qualifications to take the registration examination, degrees from Computer Science programs accredited by the Computer Science Accreditation Commission of the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board. All other Computer Science degrees will continue to be included under Category B, where courses will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, until such time as we are able to adequately review other accreditation standards and complete the Office's study of the effectiveness of these degrees in assisting in the patent process.
The Office has scheduled the examination to be held on Wednesday, August 28, 1996, to accommodate various concerns raised by individuals who have indicated an interest in applying for the August examination. Because of the burden of an increasing workload on the Office of Enrollment and Discipline and the constraints on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for funding and staffing, it is still anticipated that only one exam will be given in calendar years 1997 and 1998. The registration examination for each of those years is still tentatively scheduled to be held on the third Wednesday in August. For further information on either of these matters, contact the Office of Enrollment and Discipline by writing to the following address: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Box OED, Washington, D.C. 20231.
August 29, 1995
BRUCE A. LEHMAN
Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks

You can see a list of Computer Science Programs Accredited by the Computer Science Accreditation Commission (CSAC) of the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board (CSAB).

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Do I need to take the patent bar exam to be an intellectual property lawyer?

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The answer, of course, turns on the definition of "intellectual property lawyer". Intellectual property includes patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and related matters. It includes prosecution (securing protection), litigation, and the rendering of advice. Thus, one definition of IP lawyer is "anyone who does any of these things". By that definition, one need not take the patent bar exam to be an IP lawyer. Strictly speaking, the patent bar exam is only necessary if you want to be able to represent inventors before the US Patent Office. Suppose you plan only to do trademark work, or suppose you plan only to do patent litigation (and not prosecution); the patent bar exam would not be needed.

A special case of this definition is the patent litigator who has little or no technical background. Such a litigator may state, almost as a point of pride, that he (such litigators are nearly always male) has never taken the patent bar exam and never plans to. He may also cast his lack of a technical background as a benefit to the client rather than a deficiency, saying to anyone who will listen that he can more effectively explain things to a jury: there is no danger that he will lose the jury by stating things in overly technical terms. It is important to keep in mind that the law school graduate who is looking for work is likely to get nowhere with such a story.

But now let us change the definition of IP lawyer to mean "someone who is experienced in all ways of protecting intellectual property and can advise clients thereon". By this definition, to be an IP lawyer one must surely have taken and passed the patent bar exam.

Let us change the definition once again, this time saying that "IP lawyer" means "a lawyer who works for an IP law firm". Then the original question translates to "do I need to take the patent bar exam to work for an IP law firm?" Clearly the answer to that question varies from one IP law firm to the next. IP law firms fall generally into one of the following categories:

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Can I count on having my choice of job openings in such areas as computer law, new media law, and Internet law?

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The answer seems to be "no".

The field of "computer law" is a somewhat ill-defined bundle of types of work revolving around computers and their applications. Some people who say they do computer law are negotiating contracts and licenses relating to computers and software, others deal with tax consequences of software (is it goods or services, is it tangible or intangible?), and still others deal with copyright issues. There was a period of years when there were some who offered their services in litigation relating to the "year 2000 problem".

Similarly, there seems to be no settled meaning for the term "new media law".

Many lawyers in recent years are heard to describe themselves as practicing "Internet law". This can mean computer law, new media law, the law of contracts between HTML editors and their customers, entertainment law, intellectual property law, criminal law relating to pornography, law relating to online gambling, or anything else involving the Internet.

A review of many kinds of job postings and advertisements reveals that while there are hundreds of job openings advertised at any given time for patent law jobs, and dozens of job openings advertised at any given time for trademark law jobs, it is almost unheard-of to see a job listing for "computer law" or "new media law" or "Internet law". Instead, most of the times that these terms are used seem to be by lawyers who seek to inform the public about their fields of practice. It thus appears that "computer law" and "new media law" and "Internet law" are not so much career paths for those entering the legal profession, but are more like advertising categories for those who are already practicing law.

You can see our page about computer law.

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