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How to Become a Patent Attorney

October 31, 2023
3 min read


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 10/31/23

Intellectual property is an area of law that has increased in popularity over the last few decades. A lesser-known branch of intellectual property law is patent law. To learn more about this legal specialty, read on.

lawyer meeting with client in office

Joining any legal profession is challenging. With far more applicants than jobs available, lawyers must have competitive resumes and prestigious JD degrees to secure their dream jobs. 

One of the most lucrative legal specialties is patent law. Only about three percent of attorneys in the US can qualify as patent attorneys, despite the increasing demand for these professionals. 

If you’re intrigued by this esteemed specialty, this guide will explain how to become a patent attorney, their roles in the legal field, and their career outlook. 

Steps to Becoming a Patent Attorney

This area of law is so selective that it requires a few more steps than most other legal specialties. Knowing this, you’re likely wondering, “how long does it take to become a patent attorney?” 

It’s difficult to give a definitive timeline for how long it takes to join this profession because patent attorneys tend to have varying levels of education. However, at the minimum, it will take seven years to become a patent attorney.

Here are the steps involved in the process:

Step One: Completing an Undergraduate Degree

Like with any other specialty, patent attorneys must go to law school. Students must complete an undergraduate degree to be eligible for consideration at any law school.

While law schools have no preference over the major you pursue, aspiring patent lawyers are encouraged to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering or Science. 

These subjects offer students technological knowledge to aid their future careers. Many patent law firms or organizations will also prefer candidates with these backgrounds. 

Patent law positions are highly selective, so students should maintain high GPAs to apply to top-ranking law schools.

Step Two: Participate in Meaningful Extracurriculars 

Law schools expect you to submit a resume including various work, volunteer, research, and extracurricular experiences to develop your skills and prove you can juggle multiple commitments simultaneously. 

While not all of these have to be related to law, ensure they help you hone the core competencies required to thrive in the legal field:

  • Oral and written communication
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Advocacy
  • Commitment to service
  • Research 

Rather than pursuing several extracurriculars to fill up your resume, you should focus on participating in just a few meaningful experiences to which you can make significant contributions. 

Step Three: Write the LSAT or GRE

Depending on the law schools you apply to, you may be allowed to write the LSAT or the GRE. There are benefits to taking either exam, so ensure you review both before deciding. 

Your desired law school will likely provide you with the median LSAT score of previous applicants but not a GRE score. There needs to be more data on the GRE because it has only recently started being accepted by law schools. 

Fortunately, there’s an easy remedy to this issue! ETS, the creators of the GRE, created a conversion tool that can tell you what GRE score is equivalent to your school’s median LSAT score.

Create a comprehensive study plan and consider seeking external help. With the recommendation that aspiring patent lawyers complete legal education at top-ranking law schools, you’ll be expected to score around 170 or above on your LSAT! Juris Education’s 99th percentile tutors can make this intimidating score more attainable!

Step Four: Choose the Perfect Law School

So you’ve reached your target LSAT score, written a compelling personal statement, and crafted an impressive resume. After all this hard work, you should receive multiple offer letters from your top choices! 

Once you’ve had the chance to pat yourself on the back and celebrate, you’ll need to  consider which offer to accept. While few law schools offer specific patent law programs, several offer intellectual property law programs that will give you experience with patent law.

For instance, UC Berkeley holds the title of best intellectual law property program in the country, followed closely by Stanford. These schools can offer you the prestige and resources necessary to land a coveted patent law position post-graduation!

Step Five: Gain Experience in Intellectual Property Law 

If you choose a law school with a strong intellectual law program, you should have access to courses, clinics, and projects to give you hands-on experience working on intellectual property law cases.

You should also seek employment opportunities during the summers between your JD years that can help you develop your legal skills. Experience working in an intellectual property legal firm would be the best, but gaining experience in any legal setting can boost your resume.

Step Six: Write the MPRE

As you progress in your JD, you’ll want to start thinking about writing the MPRE exam. Students can write this exam anytime after their 1L year;  most students write it during the summer of their second or third year.

Step Seven: Consider Pursuing Higher Education

Most patent lawyers have Master’s or Doctoral degrees, which gives them an advantage because they have more specialized training and research experience in intellectual property or patent law. 

LLMs in Intellectual Law take one year to complete, and PhDs in the subject will take at least four years. Most PhD programs will require you to complete a Master’s degree before enrolment. As such, pursuing these additional degrees will take your seven-year timeline to at least eight to twelve years!

Step Eight: Pass the Bar Exam

Once you’ve completed your education, you’ll have to prove you’ve retained the knowledge and skills learned during your JD by passing the bar exam

Step Nine: Become a Certified Patent Practitioner With USPTO

Lawyers hoping to practice as patent lawyers before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) must pass a certification exam known as the Patent Bar Exam to become registered patent attorneys. 

This exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and will take six hours to complete. Only 90 of these answers are scored; lawyers must answer 63 correctly to pass the exam. 

three lawyers meeting in office

What Does a Patent Attorney Do?

We’ve explored how to become a patent attorney, but you still need an idea of what these legal professionals do daily. 

Patent attorneys’ main tasks involve preparing, negotiating, and protecting patent applications for inventors and corporations. To do this, they perform the following tasks:

  • Litigate disputes before the USPTO or in civil courts
  • Create and implement strategies to defend patent rights
  • Prepare and file applications to establish patent rights
  • Explain how clients’ inventions differ from similar ones to demonstrate a need for patent
  • Provide legal counsel on intellectual property rights

While unregistered lawyers may present patent cases in civil courts, only registered patent lawyers can present them to the USPTO. Unregistered patent lawyers are not permitted to file or prosecute patent applications either.

Skills Needed To Become a Patent Attorney

There are a few skills that can take you from being a good patent attorney to being an excellent one:

  • Technical knowledge: patent attorneys are often considered to be a combination of lawyers and scientists, so they’re required to have expertise in technology, science, and law 
  • Attention to detail: to find differences between similar inventions and make a case for the necessity of patents
  • Communication: to negotiate patent rights effectively
  • Legal and scientific writing: to draft accurate patent applications

As you may have noticed, a few of these skills involve scientific and technical knowledge, which is why it's suggested students pursue majors in science or engineering and graduate-level education.

female lawyer working at desk in office

Patent Attorney Salary and Job Outlook

There is a steady demand for patent attorneys. Individuals and corporations are constantly coming out with new inventions that need protection. 

Patent attorneys make an average of $135,428 a year. Considering unregistered patent attorneys can offer limited services, registered attorneys have the highest pay potential and most job opportunities. 

FAQs: How To Become a Patent Attorney

For any remaining questions about how to become a patent attorney, read on to find your answers.

1. How Long Does It Take To Become a Patent Attorney?

It will take at least seven years to become a patent attorney: four years to complete an undergrad, preferably in Science or Engineering, and three years to complete a JD. Many patent lawyers pursue graduate degrees that can add one to five years to this timeline.

2. What Is the Difference Between a Patent Agent and Patent Attorney?

Patent agents are not lawyers. While they offer some of the same services as patent attorneys, such as researching patent rights, determining differences between inventions, and helping draft patent applications, they do not have the legal expertise to present these cases in front of courts or the Patent Office or submit patent applications.

Patent agents typically only require an undergrad to begin practicing. They must also pass the Patent Bar Exam. 

3. What Is the Difference Between a Patent Attorney and an Intellectual Property Attorney?

Patent law is a subspecialty of intellectual property law. Most patent lawyers will receive an education in intellectual law before specializing in patent law during their careers. So, while all patent lawyers are technically intellectual property lawyers, not all intellectual property lawyers are patent lawyers. 

4. What Are the Educational Requirements To Become a Patent Attorney?

Students should have an undergraduate degree and a JD at the minimum to practice patent law.

5. How Much Do Patent Attorneys Make?

Patent attorneys make an average of $135,428 a year.

6. Do Patent Attorneys Need To Complete a PhD?

No, many successful patent attorneys only pursue JDs and no  graduate education. However, a large percentage of these professionals have PhDs. Since research and strong writing skills are essential to this job, obtaining a PhD can make you a more attractive employee. 

Final Thoughts

Becoming a registered patent attorney is among the most elite titles lawyers can receive. While the journey to joining this profession will be arduous and may take well over a decade, it will result in a lucrative, high-paying, and in-demand career!

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