While most engineers may be focused on obtaining patents through their own work, many overlook the possibility of becoming U.S. patent agents. Engineers and other scientific professionals are uniquely qualified to become patent agents because of their technical background. And their expertise is sought after by both law firms and corporations.
The main difference between patent agents and patent attorneys is that with their law degrees attorneys can practice law outside the patent office. However, both agents and attorneys must sit and pass the Patent Registration Exam, which tests one’s knowledge of patent law as well as U.S. Patent and Trademark Office policies. Those who become full-time patent agents can go to work at patent law firms.
For those interested in becoming an agent, the IEEE has collaborated with the Practicing Law Institute (PLI) to offer a 10 percent discount on its patent bar review course. This course helps prospective patent agents prepare for the Patent Registration Exam, better known as the patent bar exam. PLI is a nonprofit organization that provides continuing education courses for lawyers but has recently expanding its reach to others.
“Our patent bar review course is the first in existence to our knowledge,” says the institute’s training services director, Mark Dighton. “Until recently we have focused on lawyers and law students but want to reach out to engineers who are interested in becoming patent agents.”
One of the main requirements to sit for the patent bar exam is an undergraduate degree in engineering or other hard science, including chemistry, biology, physics, or computer science. According to PLI, the average lawyer or law student has no significant advantage over an engineer with no legal experience in taking the exam because the test is more about knowing procedural details than actual patent law.
“Engineers often decide on becoming patent agents because it broadens their career opportunities,” Dighton says. ”It’s diverse and fascinating work and keeps you on the cutting edge of the engineering profession.” Patent agents are sought after by law firms and corporations.
COURSE DETAILS The review course can be taken on your own at home or in a classroom with a teacher. All students receive a set of written materials, including practice books and an audio CD of all lectures. Those taking the home study route will also receive DVDs replicating the live lectures and question reviews.
The live courses are a series of five-day lectures and exercises that last 10 hours each day. Courses are scheduled throughout the year in Boston; Chicago; Costa Mesa, Calif.; Houston; New York; San Francisco; and the Washington, D.C. area.
According to PLI, those planning to take the exam should set aside at least 150 to 200 hours of study, in chunks of three to four hours at a time spread over a month or two. Ideally, one would take the course sometime in the middle of this period, continuing to review the material even after the course has ended. Course materials must be returned after the exam.