A licensed patent agent is someone who has taken and passed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) patent bar and is licensed and registered with the USPTO to organize and file patent applications on behalf of clients. Since many inventions are based on engineering or science ideas, it's mandatory by the USPTO to have a patent agent in order to take the Patent Bar.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I become a patent agent?

Most importantly, you must first obtain a bachelor's degree (or foreign equivalent) that is recognized by the USPTO in a field of science, technology, or engineering.

However, if you don't have a degree in any of the above-mentioned fields, you can still apply if you have alternative training, practical experience, military service, a post-bachelors degree, and other conditions. For those foreign degrees that are not in the English language, a translation must be provided to the USPTO.

After having the educational or practical experience requirements, you'll want to study for and take the patent bar. The exam is online but is offered in paper form once a year at a location determined by the patent office. In addition to meeting the educational criteria and taking the exam, you'll need to pay the required fees and meet all filing deadlines.

  • How is a patent attorney different from a patent agent?

Both positions generally have the same role. Both roles require significant knowledge of the patent laws, how the patent process works, and other rules.

The one significant difference between a patent agent and a patent attorney is that an attorney has attended and graduated law school, passed the bar exam, and has the ability to practice law in one or more states in the U.S. Moreover, the patent attorney must also pass the USPTO's patent bar. A patent attorney, unlike a patent agent, can partake in courtroom proceedings and advise clients.

  • I need help with my patent. Should I contact a patent agent or a patent attorney?

Make sure that the individual you reach out to is either a registered patent attorney or agent as only those individuals can assist others in obtaining patents.

Choose someone who is qualified to assist you with your invention. If your invention is electronic, find someone experienced in this area; if your invention is mechanical in nature, find a qualified attorney or agent who is knowledgeable in this area.

Make sure to conduct your own research and ask any questions you may have. In addition, participate in workshops and attend seminars to find a patent attorney. You may even want to speak to other inventors who might be able to offer some assistance or recommend an attorney or agent in your specific field.

While the USPTO doesn't specifically recommend patent attorneys, it does, in fact, provide a list of registered patent agents and attorneys by state.

Be careful of certain online directories or websites that provide such names, but may provide you with a poor quality patent application and charge high fees.

Patent professionals also advertise in Inventors' Digest magazine, along with patent searchers, prototypes, and marketing experts.

  • How many are employed in the United States?

As of November 2013, the USPTO indicated that there are 42,502 active patent practitioners, which includes 10,864 patent agents and 31,638 patent attorneys.

  • Where do patent agents work?

Patent agents can work for a law firm, a technological firm, or in the legal department of a corporation. Patent agents can also work individually or as a patent examiner at the USPTO.

  • What is the patent bar?

Patent agents and attorneys must take the patent bar, an examination that has a rather low passage rate. It is a 100-question, 6-hour multiple-choice test. All applicants are given 3 hours to complete 50 questions in the morning, and another 3 hours to complete 50 questions in the afternoon. Included in the test are 10 sample questions that do not count toward the applicant's score but rather operate as sample questions to potentially be used in future examinations. Note that the applicant is not made aware of which questions are the sample questions. Applicants must score 70 percent to pass the test, which is equivalent to 63 correct answers out of the 90 graded questions.

  • How can I find a good patent attorney or agent?

As previously mentioned, the one significant difference between a patent attorney and patent agent is the fact that an attorney has obtained a law degree whereas a patent agent has not. Therefore, a patent agent is simply someone with a bachelor's degree or someone who meets the other conditions, i.e. practical experience, etc., who takes the patent bar, and subsequently works as a patent agent.

A patent attorney, however, attends and graduates from law school, takes and passes the bar exam, and subsequently decides to practice in the field of patent law. The attorney is then required to take the patent bar in order to operate in this area.

Generally, both agents and attorneys work as patent examiners for the USPTO before transitioning into private practice or working for a law firm.

Law firms hire patent agents as well as patent attorneys to writer and review patent applications.

A good patent agent or attorney will provide you with a written opinion as to the patentability of your invention. The written opinion should be detailed and specific and answer any questions you may have. Also be sure to choose an attorney or agent who will provide you with a free consultation so that the professional can determine if they can or cannot help you with your patent application. You'll also want to obtain the price upfront for the fees associated with hiring an agent or attorney in this area.

  • What is a typical salary for a patent agent?

The average income for a private firm's patent agent with less than five years worth of experience is $92,250. There is a 1st to 3rd quartile range that goes from $55,500 to $126,250.

Who is a Patent Agent?

No matter if you're a patent attorney or patent agent, you're often performing identical roles. They both have a degree in either science or engineering and must both study the patent laws, rules, and how the patent office generally works. There are difficult steps to becoming a patent attorney or agent.

Steps to Become a Registered Patent Agent

In order to be a registered patent agent, you need to obtain a bachelor's degree in a science-related field or have a degree in engineering or technology. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must recognize this. If you have a bachelor's degree or something similar in the same subject, it may be able to be combined with several things. This includes life experiences, graduate degrees, alternative training, course credits, military service, and other conditions. If you're applying with a foreign degree that's equivalent and isn't in English, all the documents you turn in need to have certified English translations.

You can apply for and study for the exam in addition to reviewing previous patent bar exams by going online. The patent bar exam that's online is given by Thomson Prometric throughout the nation at any time of the year. If you choose to take it via a paper test, you will need to go to a physical office, which the patent office will determine. All the documents need to be completed and submitted before the filing deadlines, and the required fees must be paid.

How Can an Individual Be Disqualified From the Patent Bar?

Those who are ineligible to apply to take the patent bar or as a patent attorney or agent include people convicted of ground in the last two years. This also includes those individuals who have a completed sentence two years ago but didn't meet the burden of proof of rehabilitation and reform. Applicants who aren't eligible also include anyone disbarred from law or practice due to due to a disciplinary hearing. It also includes anyone who doesn't have good moral standing or character.

Steps to Find an Attorney or Agent for Your Specific Issue

You'll need to find an agent or attorney for your specific issue. There isn't any patent attorney or agent who is qualified in every single field. You should choose someone who's technically qualified to represent the invention you made. If this is an electronic invention, you'll want someone with experience in electronics. If you have a mechanical invention, you need an agent or attorney who qualifies in mechanics, and so on.

You'll also need to do the legwork. Research what you need to know and ask any questions you have. You can also go to inventor seminars and workshops to find your patent attorney. You may know other inventors who can recommend an agent or attorney they used in a specific field. However, be cautious of the intentions of an attorney that contacts you out of the blue before you contact them.

Steps to Find a Good Patent Attorney

A patent agent often starts out in the profession their degree is in and realizes they like the challenges of patenting. The agent then goes on to study patent law, takes a test with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and becomes a patent agent who's licensed. Patent attorneys generally get their law degrees first and then decide they want to go on to work in patent law, so get their technical degree. Both attorneys and agents tend to work as patent examiners for a Patent Office before they work for a law firm or go into private practice.

Most law firms hire both patent attorneys and patent agents to write their patent applications for inventors that hire them. The majority are trustworthy and ethical. However, a few have decided to make quick money by processing applications that are worthless when it comes to how effective they can get money from a licensee or hold up in court.

Things to Look Out For

There are several things to look out for and be aware of when it comes to finding patent agents and attorneys.

  • If you do not think that a patent agent is necessary for your project, seek an online legal document provider who can help you through the patent application process.
  • Be sure not to contact unlicensed patent agents or agents who are not registered with the USPTO.
  • Google and other search engines are not necessarily reliable when it comes to finding a patent agent as the search results may reflect advertisers rather than qualified and experienced agents.
  • The same goes for television advertisers, mail flyers, or direct solicitations.

If you need help finding a licensed patent agent, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.