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The way you become a trainee patent attorney depends on the laws in the jurisdiction in which you live. In some countries, the only official way to obtain any sort of attorney training is through law school internship programs or employment after graduation and prior to licensing. Other countries have a special occupational training program for patent attorneys that does not require a law degree. Trainees in these countries must complete a certain number of supervised work hours and take qualifying exams to obtain licensing as a patent attorney.
Legal training is controlled by governmental regulations and professional associations in individual countries. Licensing legal practitioners is often based on a jurisdiction's historical practices and the design of its legal system. There is a distinct difference in the way the US licenses people to practice law as compared to the methods in the UK, for example, even though the legal system of one country is derived from the other.
Patent law is one area where there are distinct differences in the way people are trained and licensed to practice. This area of the law requires special technical knowledge of practical sciences that is as important as the knowledge of the law. Many countries have separated patent law from other legal areas specifically because of the special knowledge needed to practice this type of law effectively.
In some countries, such as the US, you need to go to law school to become a trainee patent attorney. Between academic years, you can intern at a patent law firm and learn how to do much of the lower level work that is performed by entry-level attorneys. Once you graduate, you can obtain a job at a patent law firm as an associate, which is another label for a trainee patent attorney. You will retain this trainee status until you pass the bar exam and are licensed by a state to practice law.
The UK, Canada, Australia and certain other countries do not require a law degree to become a trainee patent attorney. These countries have created a special certification process that ensures the candidate has the specific technical and legal knowledge needed to work with patents. Once a patent attorney finishes the certificate process, he can only work within the patent law field and not as a legal practitioner generally.
Typically, to become a trainee patent attorney in these sorts of jurisdictions, you must have completed the required number of college-level hours with emphasis in a scientific major, like biology or computer science. In many instances, you must also have a certain minimum grade point average. After your general education is completed, you can apply for a position as a trainee at a patent law firm. Over the course of three to five years, you are required to complete a combination of experience hours and academic credits, and take a number of qualifying exams, before you are relieved of the trainee title.