What Does a Patent Attorney Do?

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Considering a career as a patent attorney? Simply graduating from law school isn’t enough to propel you into this field. It takes a deep understanding of technology and the ability to keep up with the latest that technology has to offer in order to effectively do this job. It’s been found, however, that those who go into patent law are typically highly satisfied in their line of work because of the opportunities afforded to them in combination with their interests and expertise.

Those with only a passing fancy for technology need not apply!

Primary Job Functions of Patent Attorneys

Primary jobs for patent lawyers (also known as "intellectual property lawyers") can be broken down into patent prosecution, litigation, and transactional lawyers. This is not to say that a patent attorney doesn't need to know how to execute each of these, but these are major breakdowns of duties when working with a team.

  • Patent prosecution attorneys require the most technical knowledge for the drafting, filing, and prosecution of patents and trademarks for clients.
  • Patent litigators handle lawsuits and, though they may have a lesser technical background, are often required to look through previous technology for their case (called “prior arts”).
  • Transactional attorneys primarily handle the buying and selling of profiles, licenses, and licensing agreements. Those working with smaller businesses, or leading the act solo, may be required to perform each of these tasks.

Patent attorneys must know and understand patent laws in detail. Though they may not be doing the actual innovating of new technology, they audit these developments to ensure protection for the inventors as well as to ensure no infringement on previous patents. Patent attorneys are required to be licensed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. According to their site, there are currently 34,633 active registered patent attorneys.

Can I Jump Into Patent Law?

According to patent attorney Russ Weinzimmer, when a person wants to pursue a career as a patent attorney, they don't simply graduate from law school but enter into an apprenticeship. He explains, “Just because a person has gone to law school does not mean that they know how to write a patent application. Just because they’ve actually passed the patent bar does not mean they know how to write a patent application. To learn how to write a patent application takes years of working as an apprentice with an experienced patent attorney. In fact, most lawyers do not understand patent law at all.”

This intense process is made understandable because a patent lawyer does more than just file paperwork. A patent attorney may examine an invention, provide guidance for the inventors through the process of protecting their idea or creation, and create a proper patent. A good patent attorney must be able to explain, clarify, and understand what they are examining. Writing a proper patent application requires technical knowledge, legal understanding, and the ability to explain in such clear detail as to stand against any attack if the patent becomes litigated.

Outlook for Patent Law

It should come as no surprise that the outlook for a career as a patent attorney is bright. The ever-developing world of technology and the economy brings no shortage of need for members of this field. Additionally, the simultaneous lack of qualified patent attorneys means demand is high. The high earning potential and job security make being a patent attorney a very attractive option for those with a background in technology.

So, there you have it: the life and times of a patent attorney. It may not always be the flashiest or most public branch of law, but its importance cannot be overstated. This highly specialized and detailed legal field is responsible for the documentation and protection of new technology. Those choosing to journey down this path face extra years of training and apprenticeship, but the result is a career on the brink of new technology. Legal technophiles may find nothing suits them more!

Updated on Jul 17, 2018