What Is a Patent Engineer?

A patent engineer is an individual who draws up paperwork for patents.

What does a patent engineer earn and do?

A patent engineer supplies particular technical experience to patent attorneys. Within the U.S., a patent engineer may be a patent agent. As a patent engineer, you consider patent portfolios, assist with patent landscaping, and handle patent situations (within the place you work together with patent attorneys). As a patent engineer, your earnings are determined by your years of expertise and professional experience. A patent engineer normally works for a patent lawyer or agent to help with preparing and prosecuting patent functions.

A patent engineer has at least a bachelor’s degree and usually has a master’s or perhaps a Ph.D. (notably in life sciences). Notably, they don’t have a law degree or patent agent training, although they can usually work toward earning such a credential as soon as they get started in the field. The typical duties they carry out are prior art searches and drawing up preliminary patent specs that describe the invention in clear detail. Patent engineers will also often help the inventor with technical aspects that might not have yet been fully fleshed out. However, they hardly ever receive formal credit for this work.

Within the Silicon Valley area, patent engineering is a high-demand field. Salaries range from $80,000-$100,000 and quickly increase with experience, and law firms pay even better.

The patent bar exam is not an easy one, but taking it is typically the next step and can bump up a salary another $30,000-$40,000.

Core Responsibilities of Patent Engineers

Patent engineers are problem solvers. When drawing up a patent application, they need to study the technology and learn about the invention. During the patent prosecution process, they might have to find out how the invention differs from others already on the market.

About half of their days are spent reading and studying the technical analysis of the intricate scientific topics within a specific patent application. The other half of their days is typically spent writing and scheduling more projects for the future. Some days might have their focus be on just one field’s particular technology, while other days might mean work in more than one area.

Patents Explained

In simple terms, a patent is a settlement that enables the federal authorities to grant you a temporary monopoly on your invention. A patent provides you, the inventor, with the right to forestall others from producing the same invention. To obtain a patent, a creation must be novel (a brand-new product or system that hasn’t existed beforehand), non-obvious (something that others in the field wouldn’t also be able to develop without much effort), and useful (having a specific purpose).

People often get patents for new creations that enhance currently existing creations. An inventor (or their company) can use their patented invention and sell it in the marketplace, but they might need to get a license or agreement from the original patent holder.

There’s a classic hypothetical about patents, and it’s about the siren for a fire engine. An inventor created a siren to go on fire engines, but to sell fire engines that have this patented siren, they’d need to first get their hands on the license for fire engines themselves. Then, if another inventor comes around who invents bright flashing lights for fire engines, they’d need to get the license for both fire engines and the siren to be able to sell fire engines with the siren and the colorful flashy lights.

Why Should You File a Patent?

You should file for a patent to defend your market share. Let’s say your organization creates a product that makes use of a patented invention, makes it public, and makes your competitors cognizant of your patent. It might stop competitors from investing money and time in a competing product that may infringe on your patent.

Another reason to file for a patent is to strengthen your patent portfolio. If you sue a competing company for patent infringement (which is reasonably routine in the intellectual property field), having your entire proprietary expertise patented allows you to build up a more robust defense. In case your competition tries to sue your company, claiming patent infringement, your thorough portfolio supplies the perfect protection for a counterclaim or a cross-patent license. A patent supplies legal security and allows you to either license or sell your creation to others.

Should You Instead Keep It a Trade Secret?

Another option, instead of filing for a patent and ultimately disclosing your creation during the process, would be to keep it quiet as a trade secret. The problem with figuring out whether or not to file a patent for an invention is how challenging it would be to reverse-engineer the process. If you believe that reverse-engineering the product would be a pretty easy process, then you should definitely patent your invention to protect it. This keeps potential competitors from copying it and others from accidentally inventing the same product independently from you.

If you think it would be highly unlikely to nearly impossible for someone else to reverse-engineer your product, then patenting it might not be the best way to go. You might be better off protecting it as a trade secret. This has the advantage of continuing into perpetuity. Think of it this way: A product should have patent protection, while a manufacturing process or your special sauce should most likely remain a trade secret.

Help with Prosecution of Your Patent

One of the greatest errors an inventor could make is attempting to write and prosecute a patent application on their own. Just because you know every detail of your invention does not mean you’re qualified to write and prosecute an effective application for your patent. You could end up with zero patents because your application was rejected by the USPTO, with a too-broad patent that’s inevitably invalid, or with ones that’s too narrow to provide you with any realistic protections. Hiring a patent lawyer or agent to help you is your best option.

You need to make sure you’re getting the right patent lawyer for the job at hand. Not all patent lawyer and agents are created equal. Look into your lawyer’s technical background and know-how. While most patent lawyers work in a wide range of technological fields, you’d be better off finding someone whose specialty is in the same field as your creation. So be sure to include your lawyer’s background and experience in your search parameters. Their fees are only one factor, so don’t automatically go with the cheapest option. Choose one that you believe will provide you with the best bang for your buck. That may mean you’ll have to meet with several patent practitioners before you find the one who’ll do the best work for you.

Don’t Fret Too Much Over the Provisional Patent Application

While a provisional patent application does have its place in the field of IP, it’s not without its limits. A number of inventors often mistakenly believe that, once they’ve written up and filed their provisional patent application, they have permanent protection for their invention. This obviously isn’t the case, as these filings are just provisional paperwork to help you get closer to filing a real patent. It establishes a filing date for your application and can convert into a utility application one year from the filing date. Your patent lawyer or agent can help you determine if filing a provisional patent application is the best option for you.

If you need to hire a patent engineer, you can post your job 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.