What is a Licensed Patent Agent?

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. 

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 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 professional 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 a patent agent’s salary?

The typical salary for a patent agent with less than five years’ experience is $92,250 (at a private firm).

  • 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% to pass the test, which is equivalent to 63 correct answers out of the 90 graded questions.

  • Can one become disqualified as a patent agent?

Those patent agents and attorneys who have subsequently been convicted of a crime may be disqualified. Further, anyone who wishes to take the patent bar cannot do so if he or she has been convicted of a crime within the prior two years. Further, if an attorney has been disbarred from the practice of law, then he or she cannot take the patent bar. Also excluded are individuals who lack the moral character or standing.

  • 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.

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 learning more about either becoming a licensed agent, 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, Stripe, and Twilio.