The steps to becoming a patent examiner are many, but they always start with a university degree in science or engineering. In order to be a compelling candidate for a patent examiner job, you must be able to demonstrate that you have the sort of mathematical and scientific training required to effectively review the inner workings of patent applications. Specific patent examiner requirements beyond education are largely a matter of jurisdiction. U.S. law requires that patent examiners be U.S. citizens, for example, while the European Patent Office requires competency in the office’s three official languages. Researching the rules of your locality before you apply will strengthen your chance to become a patent examiner.
As the job title suggests, the key patent examiner duties center on examining, or reviewing, patent applications and disputes. A patent is highly scientific by nature, and applications often describe very nuanced chemical reactions, mechanical processes, and the like. Careers for patent examiners typically involve a lot of dense reading and interpretation. To become a patent examiner, you must prove that you have the foundational understanding to not just read the applications, but also to comprehend them.
Patent offices all around the world uniformly require their agents to have at least bachelor’s degrees in the sciences. Chemistry, engineering, and physics are typically the most desired backgrounds. Taking as many of these kinds of classes as you can while in college — and doing well in them — will help you become a patent examiner later on down the line.
Work experience is not usually required to become a patent examiner, which means that you are eligible to apply once you have graduated and received your degree. Patent examiners typically work at the headquarters of the governing patent office. Universally, patent offices are operated as government-run entities.
In the United States, patent examiners work at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Aside from education, the only requirement the USPTO has to become a patent examiner is that one be a U.S. citizen. So long as you meet these requirements, and are willing to relocate to Washington, D.C., you are eligible to apply and start your career.
The process is slightly different in Europe. Patents for all members of the European Union are funneled through the European Patent Office, or EPO. The EPO requires that its examiners be a citizen of any one of the EU countries, and also be competent — which is to say, possessing of basic reading and conversational skills — in all three of the EPO’s official languages. Those languages are English, French, and German. The EPO has headquarter offices in three different cities, and applications are usually accepted on a location-specific basis.
European patent examiners must also complete a comprehensive patent examiner training program before beginning work. This training is a paid part of an examiner’s job, but serves as a sort of probationary period for new hires. Typical training combines coursework and classroom training with individual mentorship, and usually lasts for two years. The USPTO also offers training to its examiners, but usually in a more informal way.