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. 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 you 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 entails 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 month-long 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 does a patent examiner do?

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, will then be provided 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 work week 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. EPO's headquarters is situated in Munich, Germany, with additional offices in the Netherlands, Berlin, Austria, and Belgium.

Can you 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 you 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 you 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. 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.

Patent Examiners

President Trump wants to "create a lean, accountable, more efficient government that works for the American people". This is laid out in a memo called the Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce.

This memo talks about making the federal government more efficient to "include merging agencies, components, programs, or activities that have similar missions". A memo that is clear-cut and clearly defined mentions this. Agencies will need to lower the number of their workforce in the long run for this plan to work. There is no doubt as to if this is an order or request based on the memo.

"Agencies will submit their proposed Agency Reform Plans to OMB" during the 2017 fall, which is the same time that budgets are put forward for the 2019 fiscal year to the White House. The USPTO is to follow directions from the memo by Mulvaney, which clearly states what is to happen. The plan that President Trump has in place is to focus on patent examiners who do not do their jobs.

Patent Examiner Hiring Process

"Dead weight", in the form of these patent examiners, will be cut by the reduction of the workforce, even though this will not cause the Office to lose productivity in what they do. The USPTO's hiring practices do not target those who may be most suitable for the job of the patent examiner. It is not the USPTO's fault that the hiring practices are not the best. Blame for this should go to the government.

Potential patent examiners are given points for having experience in the military or past experience in federal work, even if the work had nothing to do with the job they are applying for. Points may also be given for people with disabilities and minorities, even if they are not suitable for the job on their application.

So, if someone is perfect for the job based on experience, if they are not a minority, have not worked for the government, and are not a person with disabilities, then they will score lower, despite having training, experience, and a background in the position being applied for. There is a simple solution to this, but it would result in huge changes.

Points need to be taken off of the application for USAJobs.gov that do not have a direct correlation to a job's qualifications when someone is applying for the job. The standard of hires would be raised immediately and drastically for the USPTO. The organization should also only hire people who speak fluent English as patent examiners.

Non-English Speakers

This may sound strange, but many patent examiners hired by the USPTO have a hard time speaking English. This is the largest complaint mentioned about patent examiners from patent experts. It makes no sense when a patent examiner must be able to speak verbally and write to applicants and representatives. Patent examiners can have this position, although English is not their first language. It is the Office's official language.

There are a number of examiners of patents who, for years, for years refused to give our patents. This means these examiners are not doing their jobs, therefore they will not be missed by the agency when they no longer work for the agency. There are several Art Units with rates in the single digits. Art Units, such as 3689, are so low that by closing it and others that are similar would not harm the agency, as part of the workforce reduction plan.

There are patent examiners who have beat the system and have turned in time records that have false information on them. It looks like 5 percent of examiners have been turning in controversial timesheets, even though the report of the Inspector General did not say who these examiners were. According to the memo by Mulvaney, agencies are to "consult with key stakeholders including their workforce” when their reduction plans for the workforce are being developed.

The process that goes into getting a patent can seem mysterious. This feeling has been known to many people, even ones that have been given patents. When patent paperwork is filed, some people get the feeling that "The patent office is against me!"

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.