What is a Patent Examiner?

A patent examiner, also referred to a patent clerk, is a civil service employee who works at a patent office. A patent examiner generally has a background in engineering or science. Those major offices include the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Japan Patent Office (JPO), and the European Patent Office (EPO).

How to Become a Patent Examiner: Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s required to become a patent examiner?

Most importantly, you must know a great deal about patent law. But if you have excellent analytical skills, appreciate the concept of technology, and enjoy helping others in their quest for introducing their products or services to the public, a position as a patent examiner may be right for you.

You will need at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant science, engineering, mathematics, or computer science subject; however, you may qualify even without a degree for those with a great deal of experience in this area. While you will learn a lot about patent law while working as an examiner, it is not a requirement in order to qualify for the job since you will be trained on the job.

  • Can I intern as a patent examiner?

The EPO offers a 3-6 month internship to a small number of science and engineering graduates who apply. The internship would entail learning about patent work and other intellectual property laws.

  • What’s the training process like after being hired as a patent examiner?

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) provides a monthlong sequence of lectures and seminars regarding intellectual property laws and other basic skills required while on the job. The EPO provides a much more in-depth training program, which includes a combination of classroom learning as well as tutoring from senior patent examiners for the first two years in your position.

  • What will I do as a patent examiner?

You will use your legal and technical ability to assess patent applications. Someone applies for a patent when he or she has an invention that they want to protect and ensure that no one else can use or sell. While assessing an application, you will need to ensure that the invention is new and not an adjustment or small alteration of a prior invention that is already protected by a patent. You will conduct research, utilizing a variety of databases and reading through literature, to prepare a report with your opinion. The report, which will contain your opinion as well as the literature and other search results which will then be provided in a report to either the patent applicant or a patent attorney, who will then determine whether or not to proceed to the second stage of the application process.

  • How much does a patent examiner make?

Salaries of new patent examiners at the IPO generally start at $36,000/annually in addition to a $4,000 recruitment and retention allowance. A senior patent examiner earns a salary starting at $70,000/annually. The EPO, however, follows a grading system. Typical monthly salaries for those examiners in grades 7-10 are roughly $6,000 to $8,800. EPO employees may also receive a relocation allowance as well as other benefits.

  • What are the work hours for a patent examiner?

At the IPO, the workweek is 37 hours. However, the IPO, does in fact, allow its employees a more flexible schedule, and employees can set their daily work schedules anytime between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.. The EPO, also flexible in its work schedule, requires its employees to work 40 hours a week. The main IPO office operates out of Australia, with an additional office in London. EPOs headquarters is situated in Munich, Germany, with additional offices in the Netherlands, Berlin, Austria, and Belgium.

  • Can I have another job in addition to begin a patent examiner?

You cannot engage in freelance work or any other self-employment while working as a patent examiner.

  • Do I have to travel as a patent examiner?

Traveling may be required to specific locations in order to see the invention you are going to be examining and have a better idea of what it does.

  • How will I know when to reject a patent?

Patent examiners are usually never permitted to allow anything through the first time around. Once the examiner declines the application, the applicant then has to state his or her reason as to why the examiner made the wrong decision. The examiner will then review the applicant’s response to the rejection. The patent examiner will likely want to obtain advice from a qualified patent attorney who can better assess the situation, as an attorney has more familiarly and knowledge surrounding the applicable patent laws.

You’ll also want to keep in mind that emotions tend to get in the way when an applicant is denied; keep emotions out of the way since this is a job in which you can only look at the facts. If the invention itself does not satisfy the criteria for patent protection, then it must be rejected. But that is why a dialogue occurs between you, the applicant, and the patent attorney in order to make an informed decision.

  • How long does it take for the examination to take place?

The USPTO receives in excess of half a million new patent applications annually. Because the applications are randomly assigned, an applicant has no way of knowing if the application itself is going to be assessed and examined thoroughly or rather quickly.

However, with that being said, patent examiners receive two credits for each and every application they complete. The more credits earned, the sooner an examiner will be promoted, and thus, earn more money. However, be mindful that, the quicker you complete each patent application, the less time you essentially receive to complete other applications in the future, generally between 10-15 percent less time. Therefore, while a general patent application receives 19 hours of review, the decreased time can amount to as little as 10 hours for each application. So, if you have to review a rather complex invention, you may find yourself rushing through the application in order to meet the required deadline.

If you need additional help determining whether or not a patent examiner position is right for you, 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.