How to Become a Patent Attorney

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Jun 25, 2018

Jun 25, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

If you're considering how to become a patent attorney, you're considering a career that will bring the dreams of others to fruition. Everyone searching for their big break on ABC's Shark Tank will probably need to consult a patent attorney at some point in their journey.

Overall, you're looking at a four-year undergraduate degree, followed by the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). After that, it's three more full-time years in law school, followed by the state bar exam.

That's a healthy portion of your adulthood, so let's not waste any more time. Here's what it'll take to start turning dreams into reality.

What Is a Patent?

A patent is a document issued by the United States government that protects someone's right to sell their invention for a duration of time, usually up to 20 years.

The patent system was designed to protect inventions that are unique and useful to others. It provides a certain level of assurance that other "copycats" won't reproduce your invention and detract from your profits.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office sets the criteria for patent applications and grants the right to patent your product.

Your client will be looking at one of three different kinds of patents:

  • Utility Patent - granted to new machines, processes, or chemicals
  • Design Patent - granted to protect the outward appearance of a product
  • Plant Patent - granted to distinct asexual plant varieties

What Is Your Role In the Patent Process?

As a patent attorney, you will file patent applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. You'll also defend those who feel their existing patent has been infringed upon.

How to Become a Patent Attorney

As you start to wonder how to become a patent lawyer, the first area of assessment is your background. A background in science or technology will serve you well because you'll be dealing with issues pertaining to engineering, creation, and design.

Being able to "talk shop" and understand how things are made will help you counsel your clients, both in the application process and their desire to bring suit against another entity.

With that said, let's take a look at the career requirements that'll help you help others.

1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree

To apply to law school, you'll need a bachelor's degree. A patent attorney is expected to have an extensive background in law, engineering, science, and technology.

If these are your areas of interest, be sure to pursue some type of bachelor's degree along the lines of engineering, physics, information technology, chemistry, or even biology. (Don't forget about those plant patents.)

2. Pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required by most law schools. You'll be asked to complete five 35-minute sections containing multiple choice questions. Four of those sections are graded.

They include:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Analytical Reasoning
  • Logical Reasoning (Two Sections)

Then, there's an ungraded section, otherwise known as the variable section, which is used to generate future questions on other exams.

Finally, a 35-minute unscored writing sample will also be administered. Copies of that sample will be administered to each law school you apply to, along with your LSAT score.

3. Complete Law School

It takes about three years of full-time study to graduate from law school. Some schools offer part-time programs which, of course, take longer. You'll study courses pertaining to criminal law, contract law, legal writing, ethics, and more.

As a patent attorney, you may want to consider a heavy courseload in areas such as intellectual property, patents and trademarks, and even trade secrets.

Software patent eligibility is another great practice area. It's always evolving and certainly an important field for our high-tech society.

4. Take the Patent Bar Exam

Ask your advisor when you should take the patent bar exam. Anyone who appears before the United States Patent and Trademark Office must pass this exam.

You don't need a law degree to take the exam and this will be one more thing "checked off the list" when you're ready to start practicing.

5. Pass the Bar Exam

Each state offers a bar exam you'll need to pass upon the completion of your law school degree. Most exams are two to three days long, containing multiple-choice questions and essays.

Although the format of the test will vary based on your jurisdiction, you may be looking at exam sections similar to this:

  • The Multistate Bar Examination- a six-hour, 200 multiple choice section covering criminal law, contracts, torts, evidence, and more
  • The Multistate Performace Test - three, 90-minute questions covering legal analysis, fact analysis, communication, problem-solving, and more
  • The Multistate Essay Examination - a three-hour, 600-question essay component, covering corporations, agency and partnership, family law, corporations, and more

6. Start Working!

You'll start to notice many employers will ask for someone with a patent law degree and at least two years' experience. Seek out law firms that specialize in patent law who will help you get your feet wet.

While you're there, consider two things:

  • Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses in patent law
  • Board certification

You can enhance your patent expertise by enrolling in Continuing Legal Education courses. CLE courses are offered by state bar associations as well as the American Bar Association. This will serve you well if you ever want to pursue board certification.

Board certification is a golden badge for your resume. Certain state bar associations offer board certification in specialty areas, including intellectual property and patents.

You'll be required to rack up a certain number of years' experience to become board certified but, hopefully, you'll already have one foot in the door of a firm providing tremendous experience.

Keep Dreaming

No matter how many years, how many exams, and how many law school professors, keep dreaming about how to become a patent attorney. With only a hope, a dream, and a laptop, you're already on your way to a burgeoning career.

There's no denying your days (and nights) will be long, but see if some of these best practices for time management will help you stay afloat.

And, while you're at it, see if these simple changes will help you increase your productivity.

No matter where you are in your journey, always remember you're right where you're meant to be. So keep on dreaming.