A patent attorney is a specialist attorney with the qualifications to represent clients seeking patents and to carry out other procedures related to securing and protecting patents. A patent is protection that the government grants an inventor in the form of a guarantee of having the sole right to make and sell the invention for a designated period of time. We can speak of the patent attorney in terms of the steps she or he has taken to be so designated as well as in terms of the services and jobs he or she performs.
Believe it or not, how you become a patent attorney depends on your undergraduate major, so you need to think about this career path early in order to have the straightest shot to achieve your goal. The rules for applicants to take the examination, sometimes called the patent bar, are complicated and have three parts. First, you have to prove that you are a person not only of “good moral character” but also of reputation. Second, you must possess the technical qualifications necessary to serve in this capacity (that’s where your undergraduate degree may come in). Third, you have to prove your competency in the procedures involved in the patent application process.
There are three categories of applicant for the patent bar, depending on how they meet the second qualification. Category A is for people who have received a bachelor’s degree in a field of technology that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recognizes, and they have the straightest shot. People in Category B qualify through other course work, and people in Category C qualify through practical experience. It will likely be a longer process for applicants in categories B and C. After all qualifications are certified, candidates take a computer-based examination in most cases, and the alternative examination is only offered once in each fiscal year. Reasonable accommodations are made.
A patent agent does not need a law degree and this is why you can take the “patent bar” prior to receiving a law degree or after, as you wish. Gaining a law degree involves taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), completing law school, and pass your state’s bar examination.
Although both patent agents and patent attorneys perform many functions related to patents in a similar way, there are areas in which patent attorneys can act but patent agents cannot. Most broadly, only a patent attorney may give legal advice and provide representation for a client in a court of law. An ethics ruling that took effect in September of 2008 that patent agents provide for a client seeking litigation an opinion about another party’s patent validity also contributes the to distinction. Patent attorneys can also advise about matters such as licensing, lawsuits concerning patent infringement either by their client or by another party on their client’s patent, and about whether the Patent Office or a court is the proper place to pursue a claim.